Ottawa’s troubled light rail train service remains closed after yet another shutdown

Click to play video: '‘Don’t see the same problem in Toronto,’ Ford says of claims Ottawa LRT is hamstrung by Ontario’s ‘Made in Canada’ law'
‘Don’t see the same problem in Toronto,’ Ford says of claims Ottawa LRT is hamstrung by Ontario’s ‘Made in Canada’ law
WATCH ABOVE: 'Don't see the same problem in Toronto,' Ford says of claims Ottawa LRT is hamstrung by Ontario's 'Made in Canada' law – Jul 25, 2023

Ottawa’s beleaguered light-rail transit system remained shut down Wednesday after it was abruptly halted during rush hour earlier in the week, causing ongoing disruptions to all who use it.

The city’s public transit provider, OC Transpo, announced Monday evening that service was shut down due to an issue with the train’s axle bearing.

Bus service began running along an alternate route for commuters who would normally take the train.

OC Transpo general manager Renee Amilcar said excess grease was found on a train axle during a routine inspection, prompting an immediate shutdown due to safety concerns.

She said the service, which was partially shut down for two weeks last month for maintenance work, would remain out of service “until further notice.”

It was not the first time that axle problems were blamed for an LRT shutdown.

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An August 2021 derailment that led to a five-day disruption to the transit service was caused by the likely failure of a train’s axle while it was in operation, the Transportation Safety Board found not long after.

A second derailment that September was found to have happened due to “inconsistent and incomplete maintenance” of the Alstom Citadis Spirit trains following the first derailment, then-city manager Steve Kanellakos said at the time. It led to trains being parked for two months.

A public inquiry into the issues plaguing Ottawa’s light-rail transit resulted in a scathing report released last fall, which drew specific attention to problems with the machinery

The report faulted both city officials and companies hired to build the $2.1-billion project system for delivering an unreliable system more than a year behind schedule.

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Outside of Parliament Station on Queen Street, crowds of transit users anxiously awaited replacement buses on Wednesday.

Kaitlyn Baker said she relies on the transit service to commute from Barrhaven to downtown Ottawa for summer school and for her job.

On Tuesday, the LRT shutdown forced Baker to stay home and skip out on her schooling, she said — and later that day, she waited 35 extra minutes for a bus before her mom decided to order her an Uber so she could get to work.

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Baker blamed the tardiness on OC Transpo rerouting buses elsewhere to respond to the train shutdown, and said she has “not a lot” of confidence in the city’s public transit.

Ilias Elmi said he uses public transit for “everything.”

“I live downtown. It’s hard to own a car, so (public transit is) easy,” said Elmi.

Elmi said while he still has trust in OC Transpo’s services, there need to be permanent solutions to the LRT’s woes.

“Like, every month, it breaks down. So they’ve got to fix it,” he said.

Ottawa’s mayor took to Twitter to express frustrations with the LRT shutdown on Monday.

“It’s incredibly frustrating when this happens. But safety and caution must always come first,” Mark Sutcliffe said on Twitter.

“With every issue that is identified and fixed by our contractors, we will be one step closer to providing residents with the light rail service they paid for and deserve.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the LRT service a “disaster” in a press conference on Wednesday, placing blame on former mayor Jim Watson and his administration.

“It was a mess,” Ford said in Ottawa.

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He said the province has already supported the LRT with provincial funding, but would not commit to allocating more money toward the project.

“We’re there to help them any way we can, but they’re the ones who built the system,” said Ford.

He also applauded Sutcliffe’s efforts to fix the transit system.

“He’s taking the recommendations from the inquiry, and he’s fixing it,” Ford concluded.

Ottawa is expanding train service across the city.

In 2019, months before the LRT opened to the public, the city approved a $4.66 billion budget for a second stage of the project.

The second phase, which includes north-south and east-west expansions, has faced major delays.

The north-south expansion was initially supposed to open in 2022 but is now scheduled for sometime this fall. An east-west expansion is delayed by about a year-and-a-half and has been punted to late 2026.

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