Calgary West Light Rail Transit

The Calgary West Light Rail Transit (LRT) was the largest capital infrastructure project in the city's history and had to be built in just five years. Find out how it was completed on time, and why it's seen as one of the most successful LRT projects in the world. 

Calgary Light Rail Transit network
Calgary Light Rail Transit network

Project facts

Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Value: $1.4 billion
Date of completion: December 2012
Duration: Five years
Client: The City of Calgary
Owner's engineer: Hatch Mott MacDonald
Contractor: SNC-Lavalin Constructors (Pacific) Inc.
Project manager: Russel Delmar, PEng, PMP


The Calgary West Light Rail Transit (LRT) opened for public service exactly on schedule at 5am on December 10, 2012. The 8km, double-track LRT alignment features a combination of elevated, tunnelled, trenched and at-grade guideways and stations. By every metric, the delivery of the project was a success.

The project also represented a number of 'firsts' for Calgary:

  • Largest capital infrastructure project in the city's history
  • First design-build project carried out by the city using an integrated project-team approach
  • First leg of the city's LRT system to be implemented by a design-build approach
  • First Calgary LRT to feature an elevated station and an underground station
  • First leg of the LRT system designed to feature four-car trains running at increased frequency headways

Based on passengers, the Calgary LRT is widely regarded as one of the most successful LRT systems in the world. It currently carries over 290,000 passengers per weekday and 95 million every year - more than any other light rail system in North America.

In November 2007, the City Council approved the alignment and funding for the LRT project to serve communities in south west Calgary. The council also designated December 2012 as the project completion date, to keep the overall programme budget within a schedule for available provincial government funding.

Schedule – the key priority

The December 2012 target completion date meant the largest capital infrastructure project in the city's history had to be delivered in five years. This represented an unprecedented project delivery schedule. It was therefore necessary to develop a project implementation schedule with a series of clearly defined and measurable milestones that became the primary project driver.

Project success was consequently distilled down to a focused process of achieving each of these successive milestones, regardless of the effort required. This project management strategy, together with innovative organisation and planning, was key to its success.

The schedule presented a significant challenge, with a number of innovative planning, organisational and procurement initiatives having to be implemented. This included fast-track delivery, where detailed design would be carried out at the same time as construction.

Successfully implementing design-build project delivery depends on a number of factors. In particular, clear scope definition that allows for accurate costing and detailed design by the DB contractor is key to achieving a high degree of cost and schedule certainty.

The Calgary West LRT project achieved this by preparing a 'request for proposal package'. This defined the work through a series of concept drawings and a combination of the owner's requirements and performance specifications that would enable the project to benefit from contractor innovation, where appropriate.

To speed up the project even more, the scope definition and preliminary design process were carried out alongside a number of iterative engagement processes addressing both public and internal stakeholders. It's estimated that the design-build approach helped complete the project a year earlier than if the traditional design-bid-build approach had been used.

Calgory Light Rail station
Calgory Light Rail station

The project was also exceptional for other reasons.

Uniqueness - the project had a number of unique features. These include design-build contractor procurement, a new design-build agreement with a structured quality audit process, significant environmental value (it replaces up to 7,300 automobile trips per day), and a number of 'firsts' for the city in terms of technological innovations and advancements.

Utilisation - many elements of this project (including those listed above and below) could, potentially, be used on other large LRT infrastructure projects. Among them are the segregation of the project from the Existing Operations Control Centre and the specific approach to risk management.

Project processes - a number of clearly defined project processes were needed to complete the project within the tight schedule. These included:

  • Fast-track delivery
  • Integrated project team
  • Effective project scheduling
  • Appropriate risk allocation
  • Sound quality management integrated into the design-build agreement
  • Technical excellence
  • Implementation of enabling works projects
  • Comprehensive public engagement process
  • Effective and collaborative internal stakeholder engagement
  • Project management

Benefits to Society - the project also brought many benefits to society, including:

  • A rapid, convenient, economical and safe mode of public transportation for approximately 44,000 people per day
  • Reduction of an estimated 7,300 vehicles per day to the downtown core
  • Reduction in annual emissions reduction of 3,250 tonnes of carbon dioxide as well as other contaminants
  • Reduction in travel time for all travellers between the downtown core and west Calgary
  • Refurbishment of a significant portion of the infrastructure within the LRT alignment area
  • Creation of a transit-oriented development area to provide more local services for the public

The success of the West LRT project was shown in the number of awards it received. They included:

  • APEGA's Project Achievement Award
  • Consulting Engineers of Alberta Awards of Excellence
  • Association of Consulting Engineering Companies Canadian Consulting Engineering Award of Excellence
  • American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of New Jersey Honour Award
  • ACEC Engineering Excellence National Recognition Award

You can find out more about Calgary's West Light Rail Transit project on the Hatch Mott MacDonald website.

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