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OC Transpo pulls in more buses after weekend LRT power issue drags out train shortage

An OC Transpo light-rail train is seen heading out of downtown Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
An OC Transpo light-rail train is seen heading out of downtown Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ottawa’s public transit agency pulled buses off regular routes on Monday to compensate for reduced LRT service, after power-related issues on the Confederation Line over the weekend dragged a train shortage into a second week.

Only nine trains were in service for both the morning and afternoon rush hours, according to OC Transpo, compared to the 13 trains needed to meet demand at those times.

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The shortage at the start of this week follows “several instances” on Saturday afternoon “where trains stopped and were unable to continue in service due to an electrical issue causing the circuit breakers on the trains to trip,” according to an update addressed to Ottawa city council members on Monday afternoon and attributed to John Manconi, the head of OC Transpo.

The transit agency learned late Sunday that the issue would affect rail service on Monday, according to Manconi.

Head of OC Transpo says LRT maintenance group will bring in outside experts to help improve service
Head of OC Transpo says LRT maintenance group will bring in outside experts to help improve service

To make up for the train shortage on Monday morning, OC Transpo continued to run special bus service directly to downtown from Tunney’s Pasture and Hurdman stations — first launched on Jan. 21 — and added a third non-stop route to downtown from Blair station in the east end.

Between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., the special buses will take riders out of downtown on two routes: the first will run non-stop to Tunney’s Pasture while the second will travel eastward, stopping at Hurdman and Blair stations.

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More than 130 bus trips cancelled Monday

OC Transpo also cancelled more than 130┬ábus trips throughout the day on “higher-frequency routes” in order to free up more buses to support the dedicated replacement bus fleet.

“Cancellations were selected based on minimizing the impact to customers and keeping service as frequent as possible across all of the trips that are normally provided by each bus,” Manconi wrote in an update later Monday morning.

“In addition, staff worked to ensure that critical trips, such as the last trip on a route, would not be cancelled. Staff also gave consideration to maintaining crosstown service, which can provide alternative travel options for some customers.”

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Ottawa’s city manager defends OC Transpo top boss amidst poor LRT service

Manconi said customers “experienced slightly longer travel times and increased congestion on trains and at stations” during the morning rush hour but added that “most customers” were able to board the first passing train.

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OC Transpo will keep running the supplementary bus routes — including the third, non-stop route leaving Blair station in the morning — until Jan. 31.

RTM still probing root cause of electrical problems causing power loss

In his update Monday afternoon, Manconi offered more details about the power loss issue that disrupted LRT service on Saturday but noted that the consortium contracted to maintain the Confederation Line — Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) — is still investigating the root cause.

“Electrical problems” with the equipment on the roof of the trains are to blame and the vehicles appear to be more prone to power failures “during wet or inclement weather,” he said.

“The trains have internal safety systems that monitor the flow of electricity and will automatically cut power using a rooftop high speed circuit breaker if required,” Manconi said.

“When this happens, power to the vehicle is cut, and the train may come to a stop. This operates like a circuit breaker in your house.”

READ MORE: Company responsible for Ottawa LRT maintenance hiring outside experts to help improve service

Riders may see sparks or hear a bang where the train “contacts the overhead power wires” but passengers shouldn’t worry about their safety, the transportation manager said.

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“This may be startling but does not pose a risk to the safety of passengers in the train or on the platform,” he said, adding that riders are taken off the affected train.

Power for systems like lighting is still available when the motor loses power, according to Manconi. Trains affected by a power loss are moved off the line and are inspected at the maintenance facility at Belfast Yard before getting redeployed on the tracks, he said.

“In some cases, the repair is minor; however, some vehicles require more time to repair which is why we are experiencing a shortage of vehicles this week,” Manconi wrote.

“We recognize the impact this has had on our customers and are working with RTM to resolve this problem and restore normal levels of service as quickly as possible.”

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Rideau Transit Group CEO apologizes to Ottawa’s transit riders for ‘recent spate of service interruptions’ on LRT

On Saturday, replacement bus service ran between Parliament and St-Laurent stations until the affected train cars were cleared, according to Manconi.

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OC Transpo’s service plans for Tuesday “will be based on an updated forecast of train availability and on operational feedback and experience,” the transportation manager said in an earlier update.