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TSB not flagging any safety issues on Ottawa LRT despite wheel cracks: OC Transpo head

Safety experts with the Transportation Safety Board have not signalled any concerns with a plan to remedy the source of wheel cracks on Ottawa's light-rail transit system, according to the head of OC Transpo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The issues that could be causing cracked wheels on Ottawa’s light-rail trains can be fixed without replacing all wheels on the fleet, according to the head of OC Transpo, a move he says has been cleared with the transportation watchdog also looking into the problem.

The Transportation Safety Board publicly released a letter on Tuesday detailing the early findings of its investigation into wheel cracks emerging on some train wheels on Ottawa’s LRT system.

Read more: Transportation Safety Board investigating wheel cracks on Ottawa LRT

That letter, first sent to city staff on Nov. 4, identified misaligned jacking screws on the wheels as a likely culprit in the breaks.

The TSB said those screws are not usually installed when the equipment is shipped from wheelmaker Lucchini.

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The federal transportation watchdog suggested the city, train maker Alstom and Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM), the consortium responsible for building and maintaining Ottawa’s LRT system, expedite the process of fully replacing the more than 100 affected wheels.

That process has been underway since September, when city staff were first made aware of the screw issues, and has since seen wheels fully replaced on 13 trains.

But John Manconi, the head of OC Transpo, told Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting that the city and the LRT team have been working with the TSB on addressing the screw concerns since the letter was first received in November, and the solution might not require a full fleet wheel swap.

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The city is waiting on the delivery of a “specialized mechanism” that OC Transpo’s chief safety officer Brandon Richards says would allow the maintenance team to, if the LRT trains were a car, take the wheels off the tire rims.

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The jacking screws could then be adjusted to a safer setting to avoid any further rubbing against the axle hub, removing one potential source of the cracking in future wheels.

Manconi said this plan has been discussed in multiple meetings between the city, RTM, Alstom and the TSB, with safety experts representing each party at the table.

No red flags have been thrown up on the current or future safety of the LRT system at these meetings, he said.

“If there were any objections, trust me, from the TSB or anybody at that table, we would conform to any of those safety experts,” Manconi said Wednesday.

“Everyone has been unanimous that everything we are doing enables us to continue with safe operation of the fleet.”

In response for requests for comment from Global News, a TSB spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that the board is aware of the plan to remedy the issues, but added that “granting approval of the plan is not within the mandate of the TSB.”

The spokesperson said the letter was sent to communicate “potentially unsafe conditions” related to the wheels.

“The TSB issues safety advisories when we uncover serious safety deficiencies during any of our investigations. We do not wait until the investigation report to make these issues known. We inform industry and the regulator as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.

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The city’s transit boss said he was “surprised” that the TSB released its letter to the public the day before a scheduled meeting of the transit commission.

The TSB’s investigation continues, and is “likely” to find other factors that contributed to the cracks, according to the letter.

Manconi could not say Wednesday why the wheels were sent with jacking screws already installed, deferring to the release of TSB’s full report.

As far as the final bill for wheel maintenance and repairs, Manconi said it falls to RTM for who they want to bill, but the city won’t be putting any money towards the costs.

“This is all on RTM and who they bill,” he told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting.

“It’s not the city and beyond that, we don’t care.”

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