The builder of Ottawa’s Confederation Line believes a lightning storm last week is indeed connected to why three underground, LRT radio transmitters unexpectedly turned off in the early hours of Sept. 4, leading to a nearly 10-hour service disruption along the line’s western arm, according to the city’s general manager of transportation services.
A week later, however, the Rideau Transit Group (RTG) is still trying to confirm the “root cause” of the radio shutdown, the finance and economic development committee heard Tuesday.
“I can tell you that RTG believes very strongly that the lightning storm did have an impact,” John Manconi, head of OC Transpo, told councillors at city hall, in response to a question from Coun. Shawn Menard. “We are zeroing in on root cause … we need to give them time to go through root cause, on what exactly has occurred.
“As soon as we can share that information we will.”
Radio transmitters are installed from end to end along the 12.5-km rail line and they send signals to the LRT’s “master computer” to transmit the trains’ exact locations, when they’re in operation. When those signals aren’t being sent or if there’s an issue with the radio units, the trains “default to stop,” Manconi explained last week.
When two trains were deployed around 4 a.m. on Sept. 4, they paused just west of the underground Rideau LRT station, according to the city. It took the city hours to discover that three radio units, located in the underground LRT tunnel, had “tripped to the off position” around 3 a.m.
During a briefing with media about the shutdown the next day, Manconi said it’s possible the issue was related to the weather as there was a thunderstorm overnight last Tuesday.
Last Thursday, Manconi said it didn’t appear the three radio units were damaged or hit by lightning. On Tuesday, he said RTG engineers have since reviewed video footage that showed a breaker was tripped.
The long-delayed, east-west Confederation Line is not yet carrying riders; it’s scheduled to open to the public on Saturday and the radio issue hasn’t affected the launch date.
Drills, dress rehearsal completed ahead of launch
Councillors heard on Tuesday that OC Transpo has run more than 90 pre-launch drills since officially getting the keys to the $2.1-billion light-rail line on Aug. 30.
These drills have simulated a variety of scenarios, Manconi explained – everything from an object blocking the tracks, to smoke or fire on the train, and from biohazards to an evacuation.
These drills have involved rail operations, controllers and supervisors, as well as special constables, customer service staff and emergency personnel like paramedics and firefighters.
OC Transpo also conducted a full dress rehearsal on Saturday of the Confederation Line’s service using about 600 municipal employees and their family members. These volunteers served as “a fresh set of eyes” and came back with observations for staff, Manconi said.
“The rehearsal went really well,” he said. “It was a very good process for us.”
Manconi told councillors the LRT is ready to launch in four days’ time.
“Rideau Transit Group and Rideau Transit Maintenance are working literally 24/7, ensuring the Confederation Line is ready for our customers and our great city,” Manconi said.
City withholding $59M from final paycheque to RTG
The handover of the LRT on Aug. 30 triggered one last, multi-million dollar payment from the municipality to RTG. That “milestone payment” of approximately $202 million was due five business days after the handover and the city had previously said it intended to deduct at least $36 million from the total for costs the city has incurred because of the train’s delays.
An update on the payment wasn’t included Manconi’s LRT presentation to FEDCO to Tuesday. When asked about the payment following the meeting, Manconi said the payment is going out sometime on Tuesday and the city is ultimately deducting $59 million from the total.
That $59-million deduction accounts for the continued increase in costs the city has experienced since the last calculation, as well as a $1-million penalty to RTG for missing its fourth handover date of Aug. 16, Manconi said.
The transit boss clarified that the city deducted $3 million for the other missed LRT deadlines – May 24, 2018; Nov. 2, 2018; and Mar. 31, 2019 – from RTG’s second-to-last payment earlier this summer.
The city and RTG are at odds about who is responsible for covering the expenses associated with the delays and the mayor has acknowledged it’s possible the dispute might end up in court.