After two years of construction and train delivery delays, the wait is finally over.
Waterloo Region's $868 million light rail transit system officially went into operation at noon on Friday.
The first ION train rolled out of the Fairway station in Kitchener.
Regional Chair Karen Redman calls it a "historic day" for the region.
"I am so excited and honoured to see the launch of ION light rail and I have no doubt that this will be a transformational transit system that will continue to shape our community for generations to come. I want to thank all the Regional staff, project partners and community members for all of the effort and support to make this project a reality." Redman stated at the opening ceremony.
"It is great to be joined by so many people, because in some way or another, you have all been a part of this project. And that makes this truly a community celebration." added Mike Murray, Chief Administrative Officer for the Region of Waterloo. "A celebration of something exceptional that we've been able to accomplish by working together."
"It's been a long and sometimes challenging process to get to today's milestone and it's taken a huge amount of work, determination and collaboration by many people to realize the ION vision," Murray added.
The MP for Kitchener Centre said he's thrilled to see the completion of the first stage that will revolutionize the way residents use public transit.
"This rapid transit system will build a more sustainable and prosperous future for the residents of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo and provide a clean, modern, efficient, and expandable transit system that will meet the Region’s needs for decades to come." stated Raj Saini.
Gary Grahl and his son, who travelled all the way from New York City, were among the first in line to get a ride on the ION.
"We enjoy being somewhere on the first day." Grahl told 570 NEWS.
The self-described "rail fans", have attended other North American launches of LRT systems, subway and commuter trains.
Grahl said the delays experienced here aren't unusual. "I can't think of any rail project that ever opened on time, in the U.S. or Canada. There was always a delay, this wasn't ready, that wasn't ready ... In New York City we waited almost 40 years for a new subway system to open, so what happened here is child's play, literally (laughs)."
To celebrate the launch, you can ride the ION and GRT buses for free from June 21 to July 1.
You can find more information on grt.ca.
Keolis, which touts itself as the world's largest operator of light rail systems, will be managing the operations and maintenance for ION.
Each ION vehicle can hold 200 passengers.
Stage 2 will see the ION route completed to Cambridge, for now it will be serviced by bus from the Fairway Station to the Ainslie Street terminal.