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Bus trips axed, longer waits again Tuesday as Ottawa LRT train shortage persists

OC Transpo light rail trains pass each other near downtown Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
OC Transpo light rail trains pass each other near downtown Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Up to 125 bus trips are being cancelled Tuesday as OC Transpo continues to pull buses off “higher-frequency” routes in the morning and afternoon to help carry riders amidst an ongoing train shortage on Ottawa’s LRT system.

The head of the transit agency warned late Monday that, once again, only nine out of the usual 13 trains would be in service on the four-month-old Confederation Line during the morning and afternoon rush hours.

“Customers on Line 1 will experience longer wait, travel times and platforms and trains will be more crowded,” John Manconi warned in an update on Monday night.

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

The nine trains in service on Tuesday morning were running every six minutes, according to OC Transpo’s Twitter account.

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OC Transpo continues to run supplemental bus service from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the mornings and between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. in the afternoon — and says it will do so until the end of this week.

Those special bus routes take riders from three major transfer stations straight to the downtown core in the morning and then back again in the afternoon.

A map of the special bus routes OC Transpo has put in place to help carry riders to downtown Ottawa on weekday mornings while the LRT system continues to suffer from a shortage of trains.
A map of the special bus routes OC Transpo has put in place to help carry riders to downtown Ottawa on weekday mornings while the LRT system continues to suffer from a shortage of trains. OC Transpo / octranspo.com

The shortage of trains on the Confederation Line began early last week due to “a rash” of wheel flats, the city’s transit commission was told on Thursday.

However, OC Transpo is pinning the shortage this week on power and electrical issues with the trains that occurred over the weekend.

There were “several instances” on Saturday afternoon in which trains lost power because of “electrical problems” with the equipment on the roof of the trains that caused their circuit breakers to trip, Manconi said on Monday.

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He said the consortium responsible for maintaining the Confederation Line — Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) — is still investigating the “root cause” of the electrical issues.

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

The transit commission heard Thursday that similar electrical issues — or “arching events” — disrupted service on the LRT system on Dec. 27, on New Year’s Eve and again on Jan. 11, 2020.

“In each of these cases, the combination of the weather conditions — the precipitation, resulting [in] a build-up of water on the roof of the trains — coupled with the build-up of dirt and carbon on key electrical components on the rooftops of trains, caused the power to the trains to trip like a circuit breaker to your home,” Troy Charter, OC Transpo’s director of transit operations, told commissioners.

“The system functioned as it was intended to protect the train from damage. However, obviously this is something that with proper cleaning and maintenance should not have occurred.”

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Charter said arching events are common in rail systems that operate with an overhead catenary system, but they usually don’t impact service.

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

RTM is working to clean the trains’ rooftops and rooftop equipment more frequently, CEO Peter Lauch said on Thursday.

The vehicles appear to be more prone to power failures “during wet or inclement weather,” Manconi said Monday. The power loss issue on Saturday occurred as the national capital got hit with rain, freezing rain and snow.

Riders may see sparks or hear a bang when the train power trips, but this isn’t a safety risk to passengers, the transportation manager said.

Only nine trains were in service for both rush-hour commutes on Monday as well, and OC Transpo cancelled more than 130 trips to free up buses.

Manconi said the cancelled trips on Tuesday represent only about three per cent of “peak period” service, and the remaining 97 per cent of bus trips won’t be affected by the train shortage.

“Staff have selected the trips to minimize the overall effect on customers,” Manconi wrote.

A map of the special bus routes OC Transpo has put in place to help carry riders from downtown Ottawa on weekday afternoons while the LRT system continues to suffer from a shortage of trains.
A map of the special bus routes OC Transpo has put in place to help carry riders from downtown Ottawa on weekday afternoons while the LRT system continues to suffer from a shortage of trains. OC Transpo / octranspo.com