What this colourful LRT is doing in Calgary's west downtown

This decommissioned U2 car isn't just adding vibrant shades to west downtown. It's a public art piece that will act as a workshop space and research platform for the city and the University of Calgary.

Public art, studio and research platform intersect inside of decommissioned U2 train

How an old LRT car is bringing a-r-t to Calgary's west downtown

2 years ago
Duration 2:49
A colourful 1980s-era LRT car is back in service to the public, but it won't be carrying passengers on the Red and Blue Line. It's designed to breathe life into the city's downtown west side as an art piece and creative incubator.

YYC LRT is a pop of colour in an otherwise dead part of town — surrounded by parking lots, tall buildings and construction shrouding.

The decommissioned U2 car isn't just adding vibrant shades to West downtown. It's a public art piece that will act as a workshop space and research platform for the city and the University of Calgary as part of the future of Stephen Avenue project. 

"It's taken on a life of its own," said artist Bryan Faubert. "It's grown bigger than myself, which is really beautiful, I think. And here at this location, it is going to be in service to the public."

Last year, Faubert was working on his master's thesis. He purchased one of Calgary Transit's decommissioned U2 trains for $1 and got to work on a light-up sculpture. 

At the time, Faubert wasn't sure the car would find a home. He even considered that it might end up in a landfill. 

But now, at the corner of 8th Avenue and 10th Street S.W. beside Loophole Coffee Bar, it's become a vehicle with a new purpose.

"I've torn out all the seating and converted and retrofitted the interior space to be a studio," Faubert said. "We're going to be doing public engagement workshops [and] classes." 

Inside the LRT car is now a studio space. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Josh Taron, associate dean of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, worked out how to make the big move — the LRT car used to live at the NVRLND in Ramsay. 

"Engaging the community, getting buy-in and then also working with the city to figure out bylaws, getting roads approval and getting hoarding permits, getting building permits, preparing all those drawings," Taron said. 

Behind the public engagement portion of this project is a team of University of Calgary researchers, each with different projects and goals, using the LRT car as a hub for their future of Stephen Avenue work.

YYC LRT is located right next to a coffee shop and book store in Calgary's west downtown. (Helen Pike/ CBC)

"I'm researching the way that community-based art can be a form of community development," said YYC LRT project Faculty Head Jennifer Eiserman. "We want to see if rich art experiences can provide data that helps the city understand who the people are that use this space, what their needs are, what their goals are, what their dreams are." 

The location, Eiserman adds, was chosen because the west end of Stephen Avenue needs to be activated. And the cafe, Loophole, has already started work on creating a more welcoming environment that this project can build on. 

"Some things will just be for fun," Eiserman said. "Some things won't be research activities because it's very important for us to build a relationship first with people and build trust." 

Events in the works include artists-in-residence, a speaker series, formal workshops launching this spring and Free Art Friday, a global movement where participants make pieces of art and then leave them in the public for unsuspecting people to find and keep.

Each window inside of the LRT has been adorned with steel-cut iron pieces. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"I love it," Faubert said. "I think it's brilliant. I think this end of town needs a little bit of life sort of infused into it. It's a little dreary and rundown. Lots of parking lots, right? Lots of parked cars."

So far, the community is curious about the project. As people roll up to the Loophole window for a coffee, it's hard to miss the new addition. YYC LRT has generated some chatter online, too. 

"Building owners and property owners in the area are really excited, residents," Taron said. "I think once the project is fully there and people have a chance to become familiar with it, I think that's when it's probably going to have the best effect." 

It's a good reminder, Eiserman said, that art doesn't just have to be a painting on canvas or a mural. 

"I hope that by the end of April 2023, people who've encountered us and worked with us will understand that art can be about the relationships you build with people." 


Helen Pike


Helen Pike led CBC Calgary's mountain bureau in Canmore. She joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues and wildlife. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.