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While Ottawa waits, Kitchener-Waterloo welcomes light-rail transit

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KITCHENER — Last November, commuters in the Kitchener-Waterloo region were promised they’d be riding light-rail transit in the spring of 2019.

Friday morning, with just 15 minutes to summer, the first passenger-carrying Ion train pulled out of Kitchener’s Fairway Station.

As dignitaries strutted and preened under the blazing, not-yet-summer sun, with fluttering flags and a brass band playing, it was a launch party that Ottawans can only dream about.

“They’re very different systems,” said Waterloo Regional Counciller Tom Galloway, one of the driving forces behind the Grand River Transit’s Ion LRT. “This is a development tool. Ottawa’s is a mass transit system.”

It’s thumbs up from the first driver of the first train of Grand River Transit’s Ion LRT on June 21, 2019. Blair Crawford/Postmedia Blair Crawford / Postmedia

Waterloo Regional Council approved a light-rail system in 2003, with the idea of spurring development along a central core of the adjacent cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. And it’s worked. With a known commitment to rail — train tracks can’t be moved or cancelled like a bus route — the region has seen $2.82 billion in new development along the Ion route, Galloway said.

That investment, he’s quick to point out, was already committed before Ion had carried a single passenger.

“This is all about moving our development inward, to intensify and to save our farmland,” he said.

“It’s been a long journey. We fought three municipal elections on this and the community always said yes.”

To celebrate, GRT has made all travel on the Ion trains and its interconnected bus system free for the first 11 days of service. It’s gesture Ottawa has declined to do.

Although they’re both called LRTs, the Ion and O-Train are so different it makes comparisons difficult.

The Ion operates at street level, sharing the road with cars and other vehicles just like Toronto’s streetcars or the trams common in European cities. The Ion relies on a complex system of signals and barriers to keep cars, trains — and cyclists and pedestrians — safe. So far, drivers have faced a steep learning curve. There have been four crashes in the three weeks leading up to opening day and in every case the trains have had the right-of-way.

In contrast, the O-Train runs along a dedicated corridor and has no level crossings, at least in Phase 1. Downtown, it’s out of view completely as it ducks underground into the 2.5-kilometre tunnel beneath the city core.

Both systems are electric-powered, but Waterloo region opted for the Bombardier Flexity Freedom light-rail vehicle. Each car seats 60 and can carry another 140 standing passengers for a total of 200. Each of its 19 stations was built to accommodate a doubled-up car, meaning each train could eventually carry 400 people if the demand is there.

But the vehicles have been a headache. Though Ion made its most recent spring 2019 deadline, it had been originally meant to open about 18 months ago, Galloway said. Almost all of the delay is due to delays in the delivery of the Bombardier vehicles.

Waterloo Regional Councillor Tom Galloway has been the driving force behind LRT through three elections. Blair Crawford/Postmedia Blair Crawford / Postmedia

Ottawa’s Confederation Line has been plagued by delays too, everything from tunnel cave-ins on Rideau and Waller streets, to problems with Ottawa’s Alstom Citadis Spirit vehicles. The Confederation Line is already 13 months behind schedule and no new target date has been set.

But that doesn’t mean Ottawa isn’t getting ready for its own Confederation Line launch. An OC Transpo delegation was in Kitchener on Friday, taking notes on how to throw an LRT party.

And if Kitchenerites and Waterlooians were still angry about Ion’s delays, they weren’t showing it Friday. Some lined up four hours to be the first to ride Ion on it’s 19-kilometre crosstown journey. Most carried loot bags stuffed with Ion stickers, colouring books and a cardboard model of the deep blue and white Bombardier train.

“Pinch me,” Galloway told the crowd of several hundred that came out for Friday’s launch. “Somebody, please pinch me.”

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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