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Ottawa’s LRT up to 5 trains short Thursday as electrical, wheel issues continue

An OC Transpo light rail train is seen heading towards downtown Ottawa, Tuesday, January 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ottawa’s LRT service was short by up to five trains on Thursday as re-occurring mechanical and electrical issues continue to plague the light-rail fleet for the second week running.

In an update shortly before noon, OC Transpo boss John Manconi said there were supposed to be 10 trains running on the Confederation Line during the morning rush-hour, but in the end, eight or nine trains were in service at different times due to a pair of issues that came up.

At 4:45 p.m. Manconi said, nine trains were running on the tracks, arriving at stations every six minutes.

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The full LRT fleet consists of 17 trains and 13 are needed in service for the morning and afternoon rush hours, according to Ottawa’s public transit agency. Manconi’s update came after some social media users were crowdsourcing the number of trains on the tracks because OC Transpo didn’t provide that number ahead of Thursday’s morning rush hour.

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One train couldn’t go into service at all Thursday morning “due [to] an issue with the wheels,” the statement from Manconi said. Then, at around 8:15 a.m., a second LRT train was “proactively removed from service at Blair Station due to a mechanical issue,” Manconi wrote.

He said service continued into the early afternoon with eight trains, with seven-minute waits between trains.

The city’s transit commission heard on Jan. 23 that the train shortage on the Confederation Line – which began early last week – was due to “a rash” of wheel flats. Essentially, the trains’ wheels were developing flat spots and had to be pulled in for maintenance to round out the wheels again.

The shortage has now dragged into a second work week because of reoccurring electrical issues causing trains to lose power, stop on the tracks and disrupt service.

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The transit commission heard that those power issues — or “arching events” — disrupted service on the LRT system on Dec. 27, on New Year’s Eve, on Jan. 11, 2020. It then happened again this past weekend.

Over the course of the day Saturday – when Ottawa got hit with freezing rain, rain and snow – five vehicles “experienced a power loss,” OC Transpo’s director of transit operations, Troy Charter, confirmed. On Sunday, OC Transpo’s Twitter account also confirmed delays due to “power issues.”

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Manconi said earlier this week that “electrical problems” with the equipment on the roof of the trains are causing their circuit breakers to trip and the vehicles appear to be more prone to power failures “during wet or inclement weather.”

The maintenance division of the Rideau Transit Group (RTG) – the consortium contracted to design, build and maintain the Confederation Line – hasn’t been able to put 13 trains on the tracks for the weekday rush hours since Jan. 20.

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On Monday and Tuesday this week, OC Transpo reported nine trains were in service during peak periods. The transit agency was told there would be 10 trains available for the morning rush hour on Wednesday, but ended up with eight or nine trains at different points, according to Manconi.

“One train experienced an electrical issue in the yard prior to being launched and at approximately 5:45 a.m. a second train was unable to continue in service at Tunney’s Pasture Station due to an electrical issue causing the circuit breakers on the train to trip,” Manconi wrote.

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Nine trains were in service for the rest of Wednesday, he said.

Manconi said the number of trains in service at any given time is “fluid” and “changes based on vehicle availability, scheduling and customer volumes throughout the day.”

“We know that what matters to our customers is when their next train is going to arrive. Answering this question will be a focus of our updates to you and our customers going forward,” he wrote.

“We understand the confusion and frustration this has been causing for our customers and the public and are working with RTG to restore normal levels of service as quickly as possible.”

OC Transpo is also investigating why some electronic displays on the platforms are showing “inaccurate information” and is working with the maintenance company to fix the problem, Manconi said.

Extra bus service, trip cancellations to continue ‘until rail service is stabilized’

Amidst the prolonged disruptions to train service, OC Transpo says it will continue to run supplementary bus service and cancel bus trips during the morning and afternoon rush-hours to ensure the LRT doesn’t get jammed up with passengers.

In the morning, routes from three major transfer stations – Blair, Hurdman and Tunney’s Pasture – carry riders non-stop to downtown between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. Passengers can then take one of two routes out of the core in the afternoons, from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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Beginning on Monday, OC Transpo also started cancelling dozens of trips on “higher frequency” bus routes to free up more vehicles to bolster the supplemental bus routes. Trips were cancelled again on Thursday.

“Until rail service is stabilized, we will continue to provide the same supplemental bus services we have been providing this week,” Manconi said in his update.

The transit commission heard last week that RTG had hired international rail experts JBA Corporation to review the consortium’s maintenance activities and to help improve Ottawa’s LRT service.

Ottawa city councillor Carol Anne Meehan shared footage on Twitter of a brief Q&A she had with JBA’s founder, James Boyle, at OC Transpo’s Belfast Yard maintenance facility on Thursday.

Meehan is heard asking when full train service will be restored. Boyle responded that the companies would be “building up the service over the next coming days.”

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Asked what the biggest issue has been, Boyle replied: “Line contactors, line inductor failures, brake issues … there’s quite a lot of things to be working on.”

“They’re all fixable?” Meehan asked.

“Absolutely,” he said.

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