In the December 2019 issue of Railway Age magazine, editor-in-chief William Vantuono chronicled the opening of the Confederation Line in Ottawa. It was noted that many of the line’s features are relatively unique to North America. With long trains, headways of 3-4 minutes, high operating speeds, total grade separation and automatic train operation (ATO), one could easily mistake the Confederation Line for heavy rail rapid transit. However, the physical characteristics of the line, such as the absence of a third rail and low floor tram style vehicles with low level platforms, fit more in line with the traditional feel of a light rail system. And on top of this, it is a converted BRT line!
The Confederation Line is one of a growing number of new transit projects that straddle the gap between modes. Continued advancements in vehicle and other technologies continue to blur the traditional divisions between modes. Driven by 21st century expectations for high quality and frequent service, transit operators are being pushed for more creative solutions. For example, traditional commuter rail systems are being transformed into “regional rail” systems with service patterns more typical of urban rapid transit. Bus rapid transit (BRT) projects are becoming increasingly popular, especially among smaller systems looking to provide light rail style service, scaled to meet the characteristics of their service areas without extensive capital investment. The continued convergence of traditional modes makes one thing clear, that customers are less concerned with vehicle type and expect high quality and high frequent service to meet their mobility needs.