Ottawa LRT service disruption may last into Friday after overhead wire breaks

A screen capture of a set of coupled LRT train cars being tested in the snow.
A screen capture of a set of coupled LRT train cars being tested in the snow. Screen capture / OC Transpo YouTube

UPDATE: OC Transpo said early Friday morning that full service had resumed on the LRT system in time for the morning rush hour. Read the latest here.

Service will remain down on the eastern end of Ottawa’s LRT system through Thursday evening’s commute and possibly into Friday after an overhead wire supplying power to a train broke and fell near St-Laurent station on Thursday morning, OC Transpo says.

Officials say they don’t yet know why the break happened or when service will be fully restored. In the meantime, a fleet of replacement buses is shuttling riders between Blair and Hurdman stations. The light-rail train continues to run between Hurdman and Tunney’s Pasture stations.

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The public transit agency says passengers travelling from downtown to the east end may experience “significant delays” during their commute home on the Confederation Line Thursday evening.

If they can, those commuters may want to consider making alternative travel arrangements or working from home on Friday, in the event the disruption hasn’t been resolved by then, officials said during a press conference Thursday.

“This obviously creates some frustration,” said Troy Charter, OC Transpo’s director of transit operations.

“We’re doing everything possible to make sure we get service back up and running as soon as possible.”

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Ottawa mayor talks LRT problems, ‘frustration’ with builder in year-end interview

The group contracted to maintain the Confederation Line — Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) — was called in to assess the damage and begin repairs.

As of mid-Thursday afternoon, a senior RTM official said the group knows where the break occurred but are still working off a theory of why the wire came down.

“We think at that intersection, the pantograph basically snagged and it pulled the wire,” Peter Lauch said.

“Typically the pantograph … would fall, but if it snagged wire, it wasn’t able to collapse.”

READ MORE: Bugs disrupting LRT service declining but no sure-fire date for stable train: OC Transpo

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About 80 metres of wire need to be replaced, according to Lauch. The wire was not live when it fell, he said.

“As soon as the system sees a fault, as soon as the system sees any kind of breach in the power, it de-energizes,” Lauch told reporters.

In a written update after the news conference, OC Transpo said the stopped train had been moved and returned to the maintenance facility.

“Crews are now inspecting and assessing the extent of the damage and the scope of repair work,” the update said.

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Ottawa mayor says ‘buck stops’ with him on LRT issues

Charter said the wire break occurred around 10:50 a.m. as an eastbound train entered into the St-Laurent station.

Both the vehicle and power systems functioned as intended in that as soon as the overhead wires broke, the power was immediately cut to the overhead wires and to the train,” he said.

The operator announced to customers that the train could not move forward and those riders were able to “safely exit the train” at St-Laurent station, Charter said.

About 50 people were on the affected train and they “were immobilized for only a few minutes,” a spokesperson for the City of Ottawa confirmed following the press conference.

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Both Lauch and Charter said an incident like this did not occur during trial running of the train prior to its launch in mid-September.

“We apologize for the disruption we created today,” Lauch said.

Asked whether overhead wire breaks in LRT systems are common, Charter said: “These things can happen.”

“But I also don’t want to be here telling our customers that this is something they should expect to happen on a regular basis,” he added.

“We need to look into the root cause, why it happened and with the goal of how do we prevent it from happening again.”

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Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT opens to passengers

OC Transpo’s Twitter account first reported the “immobilized train” at St-Laurent at about 11:20 a.m. and then a “power issue” at the station 10 minutes later.

OC Transpo says it will continue to update customers throughout Thursday evening.

OC Transpo is pulling 70 buses from across the system for the replacement service between Hurdman and Blair stations, Pat Scrimgeour, director of customer systems and planning, said at the press conference.

R1 buses will leave Hurdman station in groups “every few minutes,” Scrimgeour said.

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“There may also be some delays to bus service in other parts of the city as we reassign buses to the replacement bus service,” he said.

Passengers took to social media Thursday afternoon to complain about the disruption. Photos posted to Twitter appear to show long lines of people waiting to get on the replacement buses at Hurdman station.

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