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Ottawa mayor, transit officials apologize for long LRT disruption after broken wire

The O-Train's Rideau station in downtown Ottawa on Thursday, June 20, 2019.
The O-Train's Rideau station in downtown Ottawa on Thursday, June 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

City and transit officials doled out apologies on Friday morning for the broken power line that ground service to a halt on part of Ottawa’s new LRT system for most of the day Thursday and disrupted passengers’ commutes.

For hours, trains couldn’t run between Hurdman and Blair stations on the eastern end of the Confederation Line because an overhead wire supplying power to an eastbound train broke and fell as the vehicle pulled into St-Laurent station shortly before 11 a.m.

Click to play video 'Ottawa mayor says ‘buck stops’ with him on LRT issues' Ottawa mayor says ‘buck stops’ with him on LRT issues
Ottawa mayor says ‘buck stops’ with him on LRT issues

The disruption threw a wrench in many eastbound riders’ commutes home, forcing them to transfer onto replacement bus service at Hurdman station and in some cases, wait in long queues for the buses in cold temperatures.

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“I wanted to sincerely apologize that this is not the level of service that our customers are expecting, and it’s certainly not the level of service that we want to be offering to those men, women and children who rely on OC Transpo,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said at a news conference on Friday morning.

“We had a number of very good weeks in the last little while but obviously when an incident of this magnitude [occurred] … it tested our patience, it tested our passengers’ patience, and we must do better on a go-forward basis.”

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

Full service resumed on the light-rail system for 5 a.m. Friday after crews worked through the night and finished and tested the necessary repairs in the early hours of the day, reporters heard.

Still no confirmation on cause, RTM believes issue not weather-related

There’s no confirmation yet on what caused the cable to break. But, as of Friday morning, the group contracted to maintain the Confederation Line — Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) — believes it was a mechanical issue and not related to the weather.

OC Transpo officials, however, did elaborate on where exactly the problem happened at St-Laurent station. The issue occurred “where the power wires affix to the station ceiling,” said Troy Charter, director of transit operations.

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An image depicting where the LRT power line issue occurred at St-Laurent station on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020.
An image depicting where the LRT power line issue occurred at St-Laurent station on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. City of Ottawa

About 80 metres of overhead wire were pulled down and 35 metres of overhead rail were damaged, RTM’s Peter Lauch said.

“There’s a rigid rail interface where there’s a rigid section that overlaps with another one,” Lauch explained.

“One of the pantographs did appear to snag the cable and pull it down.”

An image depicting where the LRT power line issue occurred at St-Laurent station on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020.
An image depicting where the LRT power line issue occurred at St-Laurent station on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. City of Ottawa

Lauch apologized again Friday for the disruption on behalf of RTM and insisted “customer safety was never compromised” during the incident.

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Asked how serious this kind of breakdown is, Lauch said it is “a serious incident” and quickly added that the same thing has happened in other cities, including Edmonton and Dublin.

Pressed on whether wires have come down in any other brand-new LRT systems, Lauch said he couldn’t say.

Staff, repair crews ‘did not get any sleep,’ mayor says

Reporters heard city staff and maintenance crews worked around the clock to remove the damaged infrastructure and equipment, assemble and install the replacement wire system,  and run “numerous” test to make sure it was “fully functional.”

“They literally did not get any sleep to ensure that the service was put back to full restored service this morning and they rose to that challenge,” Watson said.

Click to play video 'Ottawa mayor talks LRT problems, ‘frustration’ with builder in year-end interview' Ottawa mayor talks LRT problems, ‘frustration’ with builder in year-end interview
Ottawa mayor talks LRT problems, ‘frustration’ with builder in year-end interview

To get there, crews cut the wire that fell down and removed it from the affected train, Lauch explained. The stopped train was then moved to the maintenance facility, where it’s being reviewed and repaired, he said.

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Once the train was out of the way, crews removed the damaged overhead rail. Some components used to support the power wire had to be “literally bent back in place” while others were replaced, Lauch said.

After that, the replacement wire was installed and “re-energized” and crews brought in a dummy pantograph to test the alignment and “integrity” of the new cable. Lastly, a test train vehicle was brought to test the replacement wire multiple times at different speeds.

READ MORE: Ottawa mayor talks Westboro bus crash, LRT woes and coming out in year-end interview

RTM is “confident” in the repairs, Lauch said.

“We’re back in service,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not something that you want to happen but we were prepared for it and we dealt with it accordingly.”

OC Transpo officials said Friday morning no major issues occurred during the morning commute, but there were some minor service delays.

The situation Thursday marked the first time OC Transpo had to deploy the full replacement bus service fleet. Reporters were told the agency pulled 70 buses from across the system to help shuttle passengers in the east end.

Click to play video 'Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT opens to passengers' Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT opens to passengers
Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT opens to passengers

During Friday’s press conference, a reporter asked Watson if he was happy with the city’s four-month-old LRT system.

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“Overall, I think the system is working well, but we’re having too many incidents where it’s affecting too many people in a negative way and that has to improve,” the mayor said.

“The vast majority of trips are problem-free but when you have an issue like we had yesterday, which affects a large portion of the system — not just one train or one station, but the whole east end — then obviously I’m not satisfied. And that’s why we continue to put pressure on RTG and RTM to ensure that these issues are minimized.”