‘Cold start’ to new year: Ottawa official sorry for closure, LRT to reopen Tuesday

A stalled LRT OC Transpo train is seen near Lees Ave., station in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. Ottawa's light rail system is expected to be fully operational by the end of day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

After a six-day shutdown, Ottawa transit officials said late Tuesday afternoon that the city’s light rail system was expected to fully reopen after 8:30 p.m. that evening.

Last week, freezing rain had damaged overhead lines, leaving several trains stuck on the tracks and forcing a partial closure of the system between the uOttawa and Tremblay stations east of downtown.

Renee Amilcar, the city’s general manager of transit services, apologized for the shutdown, telling reporters that she regretted the “cold start to the new year.”

She confirmed a “root cause investigation” is already underway.

The situation left some passengers frustrated as they piled onto crowded backup buses to get downtown from the city’s east end into the work week.

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One frequent rider of the LRT, Artur Wilczynski, said he lives a 10-minute walk from one of its stations and it’s normally a convenient method of transportation. At least, when it’s not closed.

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“It was just so frustrating to see it again, because all I could see is how yet another significant disruption in our LRT system was going to negatively affect Ottawa and Ottawans’ desire to use it,” said Wilczynski, a retired public servant and former ambassador to Norway.

In an update to the mayor and council just before the news conference, Amilcar said that final testing was on schedule for a resumption of service “after 8:30 p.m.” and additional bus services would taper off as the train service resumed.

“The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority,” said the late Tuesday memo, which was shared with media. “I know this has been a very frustrating and challenging time for our customers. We sincerely appreciate their patience during this difficult time.”

The last of the trains that had been stuck on the tracks were cleared on Tuesday afternoon, said Mario Guerra, the CEO of Rideau Transit Maintenance.

He said that the ice buildup on the overhead lines in one section of the transitway was “too heavy” for the trains to handle. Officials tasked with reviewing the system’s operation will “look at any technologies that would be available in the market to help us to prevent this situation from happening again.”

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Officials from the city’s transit services department were expected to provide an update to media later on Tuesday.

— With files from Marie-Danielle Smith.

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