Waterloo Ontario - People in Kitchener and Waterloo may get their first glimpse of ION light rail vehicles on tracks out in the community as the system begins testing along the entire 19 kilometre route.
LRT workers were testing a vehicle Thursday afternoon between the light rail storage facility on Dutton Drive and Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, said T.J. Flynn, a spokesperson for the Region of Waterloo.
Over the next week or so, the vehicles will venture beyond Waterloo, and travel the length of the system and past all 19 stops, between Conestoga Mall and Fairview Park mall, said regional Coun. Tom Galloway.
"This is a bit of a milestone for people, whether they're ambivalent about the LRT or they're supporters, to actually see the units on the tracks," he said.
"Everybody saw the construction and now when you see a unit running on it, it really does bring it home that it's actually now going to be happening."
For most people, it will be the first chance to see the vehicles, and to get a sense of how big they are and how much space they take up as they move through city streets, he said.
Each vehicle is about 30 metres long with five separate sections.
"They're pretty impressive units. This is the unit you're going to be seeing if you're walking or cycling or driving along the route. You'll be able to see the physical presence of it, and get a sense of its size and shape."
The tests will begin without power, with the ION vehicles being towed, to make sure the entire system, tracks, platforms, switches, signs, and light standards was built with enough clearances for rail cars to travel easily in both directions.
Once clearance tests are successfully completed, vehicles will begin to travel the system under their own power, Galloway said.
These tests mark the first time that the LRT will be travelling alongside cyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles in the community.
People will need to pay more attention, since the trains will be crossing roads at several intersections, and signal lights and gates will be activating when trains approach.
"A lot of people drive on autopilot, and the signals haven't been operational for the last six months since they were installed," Galloway said.
"All of a sudden you're driving down Courtland or along Erb and they're going to go off and the gates are going to come down."
Anyone who's got into the habit of parking on the tracks will have to find somewhere else to park, since there's now the very real possibility that a train will be coming along those tracks.
Bylaw officers will be enforcing the parking ban more strictly, vehicles parked on tracks will be towed and subject to a $40 fine.
"It'll be fairly random. Nobody's going to be putting a sign up saying, today the train is coming along this section," Galloway said.
Testing has been progressing slowly.
In November, it began with a vehicle being pushed slowly through Waterloo by another vehicle, while an escort of workers walked along beside it to make sure there was enough clearance for the vehicle.
Just before Christmas, the first powered tests took place just outside the Dutton Drive storage facility.
Testing will advance throughout winter and spring and will continue until service starts.
As testing progresses, the light rail vehicles will travel more quickly until they begin to test at the speeds they will normally run at when they're in service, 50 km/h in urban areas and 70 km/h in track areas, such as the Waterloo Spur Line.
Each of the 14 cars must log 600 hours of operation on the system before it's deemed ready for service, so more and more cars will be going up and down the tracks over the next few months, Galloway said.
Bombardier is completing one new vehicle about every 15 days, he added.
The light rail system is about six months behind the original launch date due to construction delays and repeated problems with Bombardier's vehicle production, but officials are still aiming for the service to start sometime this spring.