The Metro Line is open: Edmonton’s LRT now extends north to NAIT

Today the oft-delayed Metro Line LRT extension from Churchill Station to NAIT opened. The 3.3 km extension adds a second operational line to Edmonton’s LRT Network Plan, and features the first new stations in four years. But today’s launch was very different than the two most previous extension openings, to South Campus in 2009 and Century Park in 2011. Those extensions opened with great fanfare featuring politicians making speeches and shaking hands. The Metro Line opened quietly this morning with no ceremony.

MacEwan LRT Station
Train to NAIT leaves MacEwan Station

The Metro Line features three new stations: MacEwan, Kingsway/Royal Alex, and NAIT. The extension is expected to add 13,200 weekday riders to the system, and ETS says it has “capacity for considerable growth” once the line eventually extends into St. Albert.

The service that launched today isn’t exactly what was planned, of course. The line has been repeatedly delayed, ostensibly due to issues with the signalling system. The Metro Line was planned to open in April 2014, but here we are in September 2015 with what the City is calling a “staged approach” to bringing it into service. Here’s what that means:

  • Metro Line trains will run every 15 minutes between Century Park and NAIT.
  • They will also occasionally run between Health Sciences/Jubilee and NAIT (weekdays after 10pm, Saturdays after 7pm, and all day Sundays).
  • Every third train running between Churchill and Century Park will be a three-car Metro Line train (most of the time).
  • Trains are operating with “line of sight” which restricts the speed of trains between MacEwan and NAIT to 25 km/h, half the planned speed.
  • This means travel time between Churchill Station and NAIT is approximately 14 minutes.

Sharon and I decided to check out the new extension this afternoon, starting our journey from our home station at Bay/Enterprise Square. It’s been chilly and raining all day (and still is as I write this) but that didn’t stop us!

Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station

The Metro Line was designed to operate between NAIT and the existing Health Sciences Station, so both the Metro Line and Capital Line share the stations in between (and actually will share stations all the way to Century Park as part of this interim service). That means you need to pay attention to the destination of the train you’re boarding.

Edmonton LRT
On the train!

Though there are clear announcements, this is going to be an issue for new riders. As our train was leaving Churchill Station, another announcement was made and a couple in front of us realized they had gotten on the wrong line. I expect this’ll happen quite a bit over the next few weeks.

It’s just a few moments after the track returns above ground that you arrive at MacEwan Station. I would not be surprised at all if it is renamed MacEwan/Rogers Place at some point in the future. The new arena is such a major part of the station that it almost seems inappropriate that it’s not reflected in the name!

MacEwan LRT Station
MacEwan LRT Station

This station we had previously explored as it’s just a short walk from home. Thinking about it now, it would have been much faster to walk and catch the train there than waiting for a Metro Line train to take us from Bay/Enterprise Square.

MacEwan LRT Station
Future walkway to Rogers Place (and 104 Street) from MacEwan Station

MacEwan Station is just a short walk across 105 Street to MacEwan University. The landscaping and park around the station is quite attractive, though it can be a little confusing at first where to enter and exit the platform (at least from the west side).

MacEwan LRT Station
MacEwan Station

Upon leaving MacEwan Station you immediately notice the reduced speed of the train. It feels comically slow at times. Still, riding the train to NAIT or Kingsway is certainly convenient, even if it takes a few minutes longer than expected.

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station

Aside from being close to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, the Kingsway/Royal Alex station is also adjacent to the relatively new bus terminal. If you’re a transit rider, the new station is going to be great. If you’re a driver though, be prepared to wait.

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station

The longest wait seemed to be for cars turning east onto 111 Avenue from 106 Street. There wasn’t much traffic today, so the waits probably weren’t too bad, but during rush hour I could see a 10 minute or longer wait being very realistic. The rumor flying around this weekend is that waits will last 16 minutes or more, but the City says this won’t be the case. “To be clear — the City does not expect the Metro Line to cause 16 minute traffic delays at these intersections all the time,” they wrote.

Kingsway/Royal Alex LRT Station
Trains pass each other at Kingsway/Royal Alex Station

I really like the design of the station, with its enclosed, heated waiting areas and very attractive wood features. Oddly though, it’s probably faster to walk to Kingsway Mall from NAIT Station than it is from Kingsway/Royal Alex Station. That’s because you have to cross two roads to get to Kingsway Mall, not to mention waiting for trains to go by (which are slower than normal, remember). So this will probably be the station I use least, unless I need to make a bus transfer.

NAIT LRT Station

Once the train very slowly makes its way up 106 Street and across Princess Elizabeth Avenue, you arrive at NAIT Station. This is going to be a big win for students and means that all of our major education institutions are now more or less connected via LRT (with NorQuest getting even better connectivity when the Valley Line LRT opens).

NAIT LRT Station
NAIT Station with Kingsway Mall to the left

As mentioned it’s just a short walk across Princess Elizabeth Avenue to the Sears side of Kingsway Mall. Unfortunately the sidewalk ends almost as soon as you get to the south side of the street, and you’re left dodging vehicles racing in and out of the parkade. That’s one improvement that could definitely be made.

NAIT LRT Station
The current end of the line at NAIT

NAIT Station is currently the end of the line, but if you look northwest you can see what will eventually become Blatchford (which will have its own LRT station).

At NAIT Station
Selfie at NAIT Station!

Even though this “staged approach” is not ideal, it’s very exciting to have the Metro Line open at long last. Our experience today was very positive, but the real test will come Tuesday morning as students are back to school and everyone else is back to work. You can learn more about the Metro Line opening at the Transforming Edmonton blog.

Lincoln Ho of Yegventures rode the very first train this morning – watch his YouTube feed for the video. You can see more photos from our trip today here.

Old & New Media: Why can’t we work together?

This morning I attended a press event at NAIT where the winner of the 2008 novaNAIT challenge was announced. Congratulations to Stephane Contre who won first place with his crime forecasting software. You can read more in my post at Techvibes.

There was an impressive number of media people present – perhaps, as one of the NAIT representatives remarked, because everyone is sick of doing Christmas stories. Or maybe they were there simply because it’s their job to be there. While I was standing around, I happened to overhear a conversation between a couple of the camera guys. One guy did most of the talking, and though I only heard part of it, I think I caught enough:

“Why would you put this on the web? No one cares about this kind of story. You basically have to force-feed it to them during the evening news.”

Not word-for-word, but that’s the gist of it. I’m not sure who he is or which organization he’s from, so his job is safe (not that I’d name names anyway). If I were his boss however, I’d have fired him on the spot had I overheard that remark. He clearly doesn’t get it.

novaNAIT Challenge 2008

Why wouldn’t you put this story online? Give me almost any topic, and I’ll find you a community of people who care about it on the web. That’s one of the greatest things about the web – it makes it easy for small, geographically separated groups of people with similar interests to come together. And when they do, they’re not so small anymore.

Anyway, I don’t know what he was talking about. Technology and entrepreneurship, especially together, are topics that tons of people care about. Such as the community of people that read Techvibes.

Here’s a better question – why bother sending that camera guy for a story like this? I arrived with a point-and-shoot and my Flip video camera. The media guys all had DSLRs and large fancy video cameras, complete with lighting and microphones and other equipment. Obviously they acquired some higher quality content, suitable for broadcasting, but one camera could have done that – half a dozen wasn’t necessary. Heck, give one guy a Nikon D90 and he could have recorded high quality stills and HD video for the evening news. It seems like an incredible waste of resources the way news is gathered now.

Basically, what many people have been saying became real for me today. Local media organizations should be doing what they do best, and linking to the rest. This wasn’t a “breaking news” kind of story – why not let the citizen journalists gather the news and use the organization’s resources for something else? Why can’t we work together?

Of course, most local news organizations don’t know the meaning of the word link. They can’t even be bothered to hyperlink the URLs they include inside their own stories!

Here’s the funniest part of all this. This story will probably get a sixty second spot on the evening news, and the folks who are interested will fire up Google to find out more (I remain unconvinced that anyone uses those annoying “links in the news” sections of TV station websites). And guess where they’ll end up? Potentially here, and definitely at Techvibes (and they can then follow a link to all my photos and videos from the event). Heck, four of the top ten results in Google for “novaNAIT challenge” were created by me and all I did is write a couple of posts and upload some photos. So, thanks in advance camera guy!

NAIT to be Canada's largest tech school

Post ImageAccording to an article in today’s Edmonton Journal, it appears that the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology is planning to spend a ton of cash in an effort to become one of North America’s largest technical schools. The project sounds fairly ambitious:

A brand-new campus twice the size of the current main campus will be built somewhere in the south side, and the main campus in north-central Edmonton will be expanded to include a “student village” with residences and possibly an LRT station.

Over the next 25 to 30 years, NAIT’s other eight locations in the Edmonton area, such as Souch campus at Gateway Boulevard and 71st Avenue, will be consolidated into the two main sites.

The $750-million project will attempt to increase enrolment to 95,000 students from the 65,000 to help in easing Alberta’s “critical shortage of skilled workers.” One of the highlights is a new Centre for Health and Wellness, to be completed as early as 2009, that will include a fitness centre, aquatic facilities, and a health clinic.

I admit I was a little surprised when I first read the article, but I think it’s great that all of our educational institutions are expanding, and not just the University. This project probably wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago, when the south LRT extensions had not been approved – the south side campus is a reflection of the direction Edmonton’s growth is heading, and in fact has been heading for quite some time.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this project unfolds. It’s too bad they didn’t announce it a couple months ago, when they could have been featured in some of the Edmonton real-estate and growth publications!

Read: Edmonton Journal

Great Idea: NAIT's OokSTICK

Post ImageUSB Memory Sticks are incredibly inexpensive now, and as a result, it seems that everyone has them. The great thing about a memory stick though, is that you can never have too many! That’s why I think NAIT’s OokSTICK is an amazing idea:

Full-time students who are registering for courses this fall at NAIT [Northern Alberta Institute of Technology] are getting off to a great start with a memory stick and virtual magazine.

The 256MB USB stick not only contains plenty of storage space for student assignments, it also features OokMAG – the NAIT Student Virtual Magazine, a 40-page electronic publication loaded with information about life at NAIT.

Wonderful! This is something all post secondary institutions should be doing. It’s a great way to share information with students, and an even better way to show students that you’re willing to do something for them once in a while. I think tuition would be easier to swallow if I got a USB memory stick as part of the deal (not easy to swallow, just easier).