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'Eye on the ION': Criticism, delays, controversies

From construction woes, to delivery delays, and a dome with no concrete price tag, ION had a major impact on Waterloo Region throughout the 2010's
King Street grade separation
A near two-year construction project on King Street, called one of the most intricate pieces of the ION project, opened up to traffic in July 2017. Photo courtesy Region of Waterloo Youtube video.

The decision to move ahead with ION in 2011 was met with applause, but also plenty of criticism.

And what followed the approval fanned the flames of detractors all throughout Waterloo Region.

It started early, with then-Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran calling for a referendum, and continued over the years, as ION remained in the spotlight around municipal election time in both 2014 and 2018.

Area businesses felt the pinch of ION construction.

For example, back in April 2016, Good Vibes Juices co-owner Drew Edward Butterworth told us at that point, they saw a 30-50 per cent decrease in customers.

Scott Hunter, owner of the KW Bookstore, also said less people were stopping in.

"Less walk-in traffic, that's for sure," Hunter said, "And I think for some of my dedicated customers, they have to drive around a block or two or to find access they just won’t come."

There's also questions in regards to the concrete cost of the LRT dome, to allow for construction on King Street in the winter of 2016.

But one of the biggest sticking points has to do with the delivery of vehicles.

"It was a very serious frustration for us, not only for us, but also for MetroLinx, who were buying cars from them as well," said former Regional Chair Ken Seiling.

Regional Councillor for Kitchener Tom Galloway says they decided to separate the acquisition of the vehicles from the construction itself.

He says they wanted to use a Canadian supplier, and also wanted to piggyback on a recently negotiated contract between Bombardier and MetroLinx.

"MetroLinx had gone through an extensive acquisition procurement process, which involved a high level of technical specification of the vehicles, and some very favourable pricing," Galloway indicated, adding by doing so, they didn't have to waste time replicating "what would have been a very expensive and time-consuming procurement process."

But Galloway adds what they didn't know at the time was the internal problems at Bombardier, which transformed into their inability to deliver vehicles on a timely basis.

"They had all kinds of issues and problems associated with the production of the vehicle, it was the first model," he said, "They finally did sort that out, moved the production to Kingston and from there on, things went much better.  But still in all, we were way behind on schedule."

Galloway adds Bombardier "wears" those delays, and says there are additional costs involved that the region still plans on going after Bombardier for.

"The actual construction of the line wasn't exactly on schedule either, (but) it didn't have to be, given the delays in the vehicles," he says.

In December 2016, it was confirmed Bombardier was behind schedule.  And in the same breath, Galloway said the launch date of 2017 was looking more like early 2018.

But that launch timeframe turned into summer 2018, to December 2018 and spring 2019.

And finally June 21.

This Friday.

ION service will launch with trains between Waterloo and Kitchener, and buses down to the Ainslie Street terminal in Cambridge.

Even with service set to begin, there's still a ways to go, including Phase 2 of bringing trains through Cambridge.

We'll touch on the numbers, the economic impacts stemming from ION service, as well as what lies ahead with that Phase 2 tomorrow, including how we got to the route put in place recently and the "Stop the LRT Through Preston" group that had politicians and transit officials thinking twice.

With files from various 570 NEWS staff.

THIS IS THE THIRD OF A FIVE-PART SERIES, TITLED "EYE ON THE ION," TAKING A LOOK BACK AT THE HISTORY, THE DISCUSSIONS, THE MEETINGS AND ALL LEADING TO FRIDAY'S LAUNCH OF ION SERVICE IN WATERLOO REGION ON JUNE 21.

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PREVIOUS ARTICLES

PART 1: History Lesson

PART 2: June 15, 2011

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