Gerry Wright facility supports urban-style LRT, pays tribute to Edmonton visionary

The former City alderman Gerry Wright—who is remembered as a leading voice for LRT—wasn’t satisfied with the style of light rail transit in Edmonton in his lifetime.

“People had not yet learned what light rail transit actually can be,” Wright said in an oral history recorded in 1983. “We have, so far, built a standard subway system using an LRT vehicle, but we haven’t started to use the LRT vehicle to do LRT functions.”  

What, according to Wright, were those functions?

“Centre-median, street-running, somewhat like an elaborate tramway mode,” he said. “The idea of light rail transit is that you have a vehicle that goes up steep hills, down steep hills, around sharp corners and can mix with other traffic.” 

The Valley Line Southeast, a 13-km line between Mill Woods and downtown Edmonton expected to open this summer, will be closer to Gerry Wright’s vision for LRT.

Testing on the urban-style Valley Line Southeast on 66 Street and 34 Avenue, February 2022.

Urban-style LRT 

For the most part, the trains will move from neighbourhood to neighbourhood along the streets. The trains are low-floor, which means passengers will get on and off at sidewalk level. Valley Line Southeast trains will go up the steep Connors Road, down the steep Connors Road and around sharp corners such as 95 Avenue. Trains will share the road with motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

“The Valley Line Southeast will be a different and unique LRT experience for Edmontonians,” said Brad Smid, the Director of Valley Line for the City of Edmonton. 

“There’s no need for crossing arms, gates or bells. Trains will feel much more integrated with the communities and roadways, and trains will move with traffic at posted community speeds, just like any other vehicle.”

Gerry Wright Operations and Maintenance Facility, Edmonton.

The Wright facility

The connection between the style of the Valley Line Southeast and the vision of Gerry Wright is as obvious as the new Valley Line LRT facility that bears his name. 

The Gerry Wright Operations and Maintenance Facility, located at 75 Street and Whitemud Drive, is hard to miss. The 13,500-square-metre facility stands 16.2 metres tall. It will house the 26 new Valley Line Southeast trains and the skilled workers who maintain them.

The “Gerry Wright” will also be home to the Valley Line Southeast’s nerve centre. The Operations Control Centre will monitor the locations of the trains and communicate with hundreds of different devices and equipment along the route, including sensors, switches, security cameras and the train cabs and cars themselves.

Alderman Gerry Wright, third from right.
City of Edmonton Archives EA-117-183

“My dad was a visionary”

Naming the building after Gerry Wright renews his name and his story for today’s Edmonton. 

“My dad was a visionary,” said Bev Wright. 

“He did a lot of research throughout Europe into different modes of transportation, and he knew that creating the infrastructure that would maintain the historic character of the neighbourhood was the way to go for Edmonton.”

She continued, bringing the point home:

“To see this building named after him and to see his vision come to be is just huge. I get very emotional. That’s his life’s dream. I just see him beaming with happiness and joy.”

Take a look inside

TransEd started construction on the Gerry Wright Operations and Maintenance Facility in the winter of 2016. 

Here’s how the facility works—from start to shiny finish.

The scanner building is where the trains get welcomed back home at the facility.

High-tech check

Trains move into the yard and through a special shed for a high-tech body scan. 

The Automatic Vehicle Inspection System, which is called AVIS, uses lasers and cameras to inspect the train wheels, brakes and pantographs, which are the devices that connect the train to the overhead power wires. The system quickly identifies issues for maintenance.

The driver’s view through the Automatic Vehicle Inspection System.

Depending on the needs of the train, the operations and maintenance team directs its driver to one of six tracks leading to the wash, storage or maintenance bays.

“W1” indicates to train drivers that it is the wash bay.

Wash up

The wash bay is like a super-sized, automatic car wash. At two to three km/h, the driver takes the train through the single-direction wash in one pass. Clean trains enhance safety. Clean windows enhance the passenger experience. The scenery and the artwork along the Valley Line Southeast are something to see. 

The rest of the cleaning happens in storage bays S1-S5 where dedicated teams tackle the interiors of the cars and do quality-of-ride maintenance—things like seat and light bulb replacement and door adjustments.

Stairs up and stairs down allow workers to get to the top and the bottom of the trains. Getting to the top is especially important for urban-style LRT cars.

Staying healthy

If other maintenance is required, drivers take one of four tracks toward the maintenance bays. There are two tracks for general maintenance, and one each for heavy work and for train wheels. 

The maintenance bays are designed for teams to work below or above the trains.

Below: workers take stairs into a concrete pit (top left photo) to inspect the wheels and undercarriage of the train. One train weighs 64,576 kg (142,365 lbs).

Above: workers take stairs up to a mezzanine to get access to the roof of the train (top right photo). This is especially important for the low-floor, Valley Line Southeast trains. Unlike high-floor trains built for Capital Line and Metro Line station platforms, most of the equipment on low-floor trains—including the motor, battery and HVAC system—are on the roof of the train, not under the train floor.

The trains are parked in the storage bays.

All 26 new trains stay warm and cozy in the facility.

Sleep tight

The heated storage area takes up the largest space in the facility. Trains with clean exteriors glide into this area either from the AVIS building or the wash bay.

Warm storage protects the mechanical and electrical systems of the trains from fluctuating temperatures, keeping doors unfrozen and preventing snow and ice build-up in winter.

Eventually, the facility will grow to be home for another 40 new trains that the City ordered for the Valley Line West. (The facility is compatible with the Alstom trains for Valley Line Southeast and the Hyundai Rotem trains for Valley Line West.) The Valley Line West will connect downtown to Lewis Farms in Edmonton’s west end along a 14-km line, and will also be a low-floor, urban-style LRT. 

The Gerry Wright facility recently achieved LEED Silver Certification from the Canada Green Building Council. The certificate recognizes projects that are sustainable in design, construction and operation. 

Gerry Wright, 1929-1996

Gerald Howard Wright died in 1996 at the age of 67. He left a legacy of progressive thought and a commitment to public service. 

Wright was born in Toronto and raised in Montréal, where he attended McGill University. He dabbled in advertising before moving to Edmonton and a position in the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta.

Gerry Wright. Supplied photo.

In 1973, Wright co-founded the Urban Reform Group of Edmonton (URGE), a community coalition that worked to protect older neighbourhoods, develop green spaces and improve public transit. At a time when cities were creating new roadways, Wright argued for LRT as a transit solution for Edmonton.

His advocacy eventually led to the construction of the Capital Line (from Belvedere Station to Central Station) in the mid-1970s, making Edmonton the first city in North America with a population under one million to have an LRT system. Gerry Wright was so influential that he was named an “Edmontonian of the Century” in 2004.

In 2013, the City of Edmonton Naming Committee named stops, stations and bridges along the Valley Line Southeast LRT route. They honoured Wright as the namesake for the vital LRT operations and maintenance facility that serves the drivers, passengers, citizens and communities of Edmonton.

Why this train?

Bev Wright recalled that her LRT education started young.

“I remember being about five and asking, ‘Why this train?’ and he said, ‘Well, it’s much better for the planet and way less maintenance.’”

She also remembered her father’s commitment to the future shape of things in Edmonton.

“He was very diplomatic,” she said, “and, at the same time, if he wanted something, he would just not let it go until he saw it happen.

“I’m very proud of my dad.”

Editor’s notes: 1. The photo at the top of the post shows the Gerry Wright Operations and Maintenance Facility in July 2020. 2. If you’re wondering, City Council voted to replace the term “Alderman” with “Councillor” on Oct. 24, 1995 3. The final word goes to Gerry Wright, speaking here, in an excerpt from a City of Edmonton of oral history recorded on Sept. 14, 1983 (City of Edmonton Archives, RG-200, Series 7, File 52 and File 53), about the style of LRT: