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A Canada Line rapid transit train crosses over the Fraser River from Vancouver to Richmond, B.C., as Grouse Mountain is seen in the distance. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
A Canada Line rapid transit train crosses over the Fraser River from Vancouver to Richmond, B.C., as Grouse Mountain is seen in the distance. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Canada Line set to launch Monday Add to ...

Flat, suburban Richmond suddenly feels like a city of the future as we slide through the air amid its dense and glassy clusters of towers.

The Vancouver International Airport is transformed to just a station on the line (albeit a very, very big one) a few stops from downtown, preceded by a spectacular vertigo-inducing flight across the Fraser River on a unique bridge, supported partly by cables.

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And, even underground, the city's new Canada Line generates visual drama when the square tunnel of the cut-and-cover section transforms abruptly to the circular Time Travel tunnel - the bored section - as it descends under False Creek.

Vancouver has always provided a unique sensory experience to riding rapid-transit that other cities have envied , with its largely above-ground system that gives passengers panoramic views of the city and mountains.

Now, it's added to that with its third line opening Monday, the $2-billion, 19-kilometre Canada Line, which will give travellers new views of the busy mouth of the Fraser, the increasingly urban-looking Richmond, and the southern industrial edge of Vancouver.

In the past six years, the line generated a frenzy of political wrangling, public complaints about the cost and process, and a so-far successful lawsuit against the line's builders by a fed-up Cambie Street business owner.

But it's also a line that's generated much more excitement than previous ones, with 40,000 people expected during the peak hours of Monday's eight-hour opening. The Globe and Mail got a sneak preview last week with Jane Bird, the woman who has overseen its construction, Steve Crombie from InTransit, the company that will be running it, and random groups of line workers getting ready for opening day with boxes of fortune cookies, buttons, boarding passes and promotional material for every station.

The new line definitely feels different. The cars are a third wider than the cars on the Expo and Millennium lines, with roomier seats, along with space for bicycles, luggage and 200 people apiece. (Cost: $3-million each for the 40 cars.) Because the line and cars are a different technology from that used for Expo and Millennium, they don't and will never connect directly. As a result, passengers will always have to get off and transfer at Waterfront Station, a trip that requires going up to street level and back down again.

It has a couple of noticeable dips and hills, providing a mild roller-coaster experience, especially in the underground sections that are the first real tunnels built for rapid transit in the city. (The Expo tunnel is really old railway line.) But, as Mr. Crombie explained, the ride is smoother because there is more cushioning, almost like airbags, between the car and wheels.

And the station décor is updated from the white-bathroom-tile, eighties look of the Expo Line. Now, stations feature slate-grey ceramic tile on the floors, with cream tiles on the walls and various types of colour punctuation depending on which architecture firm built which "family" of stations.

There are distinctive elements to some stations. The Templeton Station on Sea Island has mostly parking lot and dirt around it, but provides a spectacular, glass-framed view of planes coming in. At Broadway, you walk off the street almost directly onto the platform thanks to the way the slope works - an unusual feature for a subway. The YVR station leads you to a new reception area, complete with newly carved "welcoming" totem-style pole, which the airport built.

For Ms. Bird, the one-time corporate lawyer who has spent four years riding herd on a project that cost $50-million a month, seeing it all come to fruition at last is euphoria-inducing.

She hopes people will see it, eventually, as not just a transit line, but part of the city, the way all good subway lines are.

"The Paris Metro is part of Paris, it feels like it's part of the lifeblood of Paris. We're still a baby city, but you aspire to grow up and have your line be an integral part of your community."

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