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Back on track? No train shortage on Ottawa’s LRT during peak hours Tuesday: OC Transpo

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

For the first time in more than two weeks, there were enough light-rail trains in service on Ottawa’s Confederation Line to meet rider demand during the morning and afternoon rush-hour commutes, according to the city’s public transit agency.

After a prolonged train shortage, the company contracted to maintain the east-west LRT system launched 13 trains on the tracks in the morning, the head of OC Transpo confirmed earlier Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the City of Ottawa later confirmed that 13 trains were also launched for the afternoon schedule.

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

The east-west LRT system, which launched in September, had been suffering from unreliable service since Jan. 20. A number of trains had to be pulled in for maintenance due to wheel flats and re-occurring electrical issues causing the trains to lose power.

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While the number of trains in good enough condition to go out on the tracks varied every day, the shortage was felt most acutely by passengers on weekdays.

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

Four days into the shortage, Ottawa’s transit commission heard on Jan. 23 that Rideau Transit Group (RTG) — the consortium contracted to design, build and maintain the Confederation Line — was hiring an outside team of international rail experts to review its operations and maintenance, and help improve service.

At the time, OC Transpo boss John Manconi said that JBA Corporation has “a proven track record of helping railroad operations become reliable” and that he was “confident” Ottawa’s LRT service would eventually improve if RTG implemented the company’s recommendations.

Mayor ‘very impressed’ with U.K.-based consulting firm

Asked about the LRT’s performance so far this week, Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday that he met with representatives from the U.K.-based consultancy last week and told reporters he was “very impressed” with the head of the company’s “can-do attitude.”

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“He’s been there at different hours of the day, at midnight and so on, and has offered a lot of really good advice based on his past international experience,” the mayor told reporters after a committee meeting at Ottawa city hall.

“And I’m hoping there’s a correlation between the last couple of days when he’s been rolling up the sleeves and working on the project and the fact that we’ve had 13 trains out.”

OC Transpo expected to have 13 trains in service on the LRT on Monday morning, but 12 launched in the end.

Manconi confirmed later Monday that 13 trains had been launched for Monday’s afternoon commute.

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Plans for supplemental bus service

To compensate for the train shortage on weekdays, OC Transpo has been running supplemental bus service since Jan. 21. Those routes have shuttled riders directly downtown from major transfer stations so the Confederation Line doesn’t get jammed up, then back again in the afternoons.

To run those non-stop bus routes, OC Transpo has been using a dedicated fleet of 20 replacement buses, and last week took the extra step of pulling buses off regular “high-frequency” routes to make up for the reduced train service – but that’s changing starting on Wednesday.

“Now that RTG is delivering enough trains to accommodate customer volumes, we are able to return the additional buses to their regular routes. This will increase the reliability of the bus transit network throughout the city,” Manconi wrote in an LRT update on Tuesday afternoon.

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

As of Wednesday morning, only the 20 buses from the backup fleet will be used for the supplemental bus service, Manconi said.

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“As rail service continues to stabilize, we will monitor and assess the need for S1 supplemental bus service,” the transportation manager wrote.

OC Transpo has said it’s charging the cost of running the supplemental bus service to RTG and withholding monthly maintenance payments from the consortium until the LRT service is stable.

READ MORE: Ottawa LRT maintenance group announces new CEO as train faces first snow day with riders

RTG won’t see those withheld cheques if the city gets its way, city manager Steve Kanellakos said last week.

“It’s not a deduction. It’s a non-payment for a lack of service, so they don’t get that money,” Kanellakos said on Jan. 29.

“They may take legal action, ultimately. They may try whatever efforts they can to try and get that money back. But no, we don’t give them that money back.”

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