Still no firm date for LRT return to service as issues arise during testing

There is still no firm date for Ottawa's broken-down LRT system to return to service, 48 days after the system was shutdown due to the second derailment in six weeks.

When the trains do return to service sometime over the next week and a half, each LRT vehicle will have undergone a "roof down to the wheels" re-inspection of all critical connections before entering service.

"We are still very much on schedule to have train service within the first two weeks of November," Mayor Jim Watson said at the outset of a technical briefing on Friday. "We will announce the specific date a day or two before that."

City officials had been hoping to give a specific date at Friday's technical briefing with TRA Inc., the third-party firm conducting an independent safety review of the return to service process.

However, issues arose with some trains during testing. Transit services head Renee Amilcar told councillors that some trains experienced vibration, and that Rideau Transit Group is investigating the cause.

"We will know further very soon," she said. She did not specify how many trains have been pulled from testing.

Ottawa's Chief Safety Officer Brandon Richards said five trains were pulled out of service during testing on Thursday after vibration issues were detected.

"There's been abundance of caution, a lot of messaging to staff, retraining, making sure that people are aware and feeling the vehicles as we move back into testing of service," said Richards.

"The report of three vibration of vehicles, I believe, have gone back into the yard. We had a total of 5 LRVs that have gone back, two are back into the spin to go back into the testing. Three are still outstanding, so they just have to go through and check the vibration is actually .. to validate that the train's can go back into testing."

Testing began last week on the trains. On Thursday, Rideau Transit Group and OC Transpo started simulating regular light rail service as part of the return-to-service plan. Trains were spotted running along the full 12 kilometre track, stopping at all rail stations.

City manager Steve Kanellakos said it was expected that issues would arise.

"As expected for a fleet that’s been grounded for over seven weeks, some issues were identified with some of the trains over the past several days, This is normal and the whole point of the testing period," Kanellakos said. "We’re still targeting a relaunch of partial service in mid-November.

"After two separate derailments within 40 days, we need assurances that a relaunched LRT service is safe and reliable."

That the trains were removed from service and assessed is a reflection of TRA's caution in helping relaunch the service. The firm is being conservative on even minor issues to make sure that Rideau Transit Group can address the issues safely, a source told CTV News.

The technical briefing is outlining the return-to-service plan for the O-Train following a derailment on Sept. 19.

TRA arrived on Oct. 4 and has been involved in all aspects of Rideau Transit Group's safe return to service plan.

TRA says short- and long-term mitigations and corrective actions will be taken following the two derailments and into improve maintenance.

  • Re-inspection of all critical connections from the "roof down to the wheels"
  • Physical, hands-on check of bearing play on all wheel assemblies and bearings every 7,500 km (approx. 2-3 weeks)
  • Retraining of all operators for "situational awareness" of any issues while the train is in service
  • Revamped quality control and quality assurance processes, implemented for all aspects of critical connections check (LRV-specific binders for each train)

Rideau Transit Group is looking into a possible failure detection system to be installed on the LRT cars to identify bearing failure like the incident that caused the train to derail in Aug. 8.

TRA says in addition to the mitigations and corrective actions associated with the root causes, all "safety-critical open items" for each car will be addressed prior to trains entering testing, including the issues with the wheels.

TRA President and CEO Kenneth Korach was asked if he was confident LRT service would resume by the mid-November target date.

"With the short-term mitigation measures that we've identified and the fact that they actually execute on them on a regular basis and someone is overseeing them, yes!," said Korach. "If I didn't think so, I would say so."

Korach admitted the TRA review of the LRT return-to-service plan "hasn't been the most pleasant experience" for the contractors and subcontractors.

"They get it, they know how serious the city is, they know how serious we are," said Korach."They've been very upfront and honest. We have had some very uncomfortable conversations with them to be honest and we haven't held back when we think there's been deficiencies."

TRA says Rideau Transit Group and its contractors are bringing in other resources, and it's important for the city to hold the contractors to account through the contract.

"The question in my mind is can we sustain this – is that sustainable going forward. Can we ensure that we start off on a new path to success moving forward? I think it is possible, I think it is going to require a lot of work and a lot of efforts. I also think there's probably issues that need to get addressed between RTG and its contractors."

The Confederation Line has been out of service since Sept. 19, when an LRT car derailed at Tremblay Station, damaging the car, the track and the infrastructure before stopping west of Riverside Drive.

The Transportation Safety Board concluded the derailment was due to "inconsistent and incomplete maintenance" of the LRT vehicle by Rideau Transit Maintenance at the maintenance facility. The TSB says 12 bolts on a wheel hub connected to the gearbox weren't properly torqued during maintenance.

"LRV 1121 (derailed car) was repaired and released from a shop only to have a safety-critical component fail and cause a serious accident within 5 days of its release," said the TSB in its Rail Safety Advisory Letter to the city.

The TSB recommended OC Transpo and Rideau Transit Group conduct an "in-depth" review of all worked performed on safety-critical components and ensure there is "sufficient oversight" in place to prevent a similar incident in the future.

NEW: No date announced today. Mayor Jim Watson says city still anticipates partial return in the first two weeks of November. He says the date will be announced a few days before. #ottnews @ctvottawa

— Katie Griffin (@KatieGriffinCTV) November 5, 2021

Kanellakos promised council that TRA would outline the return-to-service plan to councillors when the Philadelphia-based company was hired last month.

Rideau Transit Group initially set Nov. 1 for the launch of partial service with seven trains; however, Kanellakos said the city anticipated partial service to resume within the first two weeks of November.

On Oct. 26, Kanellakos said RTG provided a target date of Nov. 29 for full service to resume, which includes 15 trains during the morning rush period and 13 cars in the afternoon.

As of Nov. 1, 11 trains (22 single cars) have been inspected, and nine trains (18 single cars) had been tested by TRA.

Commuters are skeptical that changes are coming to the transit system.

"I’m father of two, I go to school and I work so this is something I need on my side because if I don't have a train that that works...taking the bus, being late, it really hurts me and my family," said Daniel Seminario.

"Yesterday we saw a couple of trains moving, actually this morning also we saw a train going and I was excited that ok finally I will be able to travel the train but unfortunately I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon," said student Varsha.

"We need a new direction and to tighten the belt to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again," said Ottawa resident Sophia.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Katie Griffin