LRT wheels won't all be replaced despite TSB advisory

The head of OC Transpo says despite advice from the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) to replace all the wheels on Ottawa's LRT trains, that's not about to happen.

City awaiting specialized equipment to adjust problematic screws

Each train wheel has three threaded holes for 'jacking screws,' shown here circled in red. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

The head of OC Transpo says despite advice from the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) to replace all the wheels on Ottawa's LRT trains, that's not about to happen.

The TSB is still investigating after cracks were discovered on several wheels this summer, but issues safety advisories when it uncovers "serious safety deficiencies" that can't wait until the final report.

In a letter made public Tuesday, the TSB warns screws protruding from the wheel hubs could be to blame, and said the problem could be more widespread than originally thought. The defects might even go undetected despite daily inspections, the letter said.

"It is suggested that [Rideau Transit Group] and [train maker] Alstom expedite the removal of all [wheel manufacturer] Lucchini resilient wheels that were originally installed on the [light rail] fleet and were equipped with jacking screws," wrote the TSB's director of rail and pipeline investigations, Paul Treboutat, in a letter dated Nov. 4.

John Manconi, the city's general manager of transportation services, assured the transit commission Wednesday that safety is paramount, and said so far, 13 of the 38 train cars in the fleet have had all their wheels replaced with new ones that didn't have the jacking screws pre-installed.

But Manconi also said the city is awaiting "specialized equipment" that can adjust the jacking screws to their correct position, so some wheels won't have to be replaced.

"None of the safety experts have expressed any concerns with the path forward," Manconi said, noting TSB officials take part in those conversations. 

The TSB said Wednesday it's aware of the plan to maintain some wheels, but said it's not within its mandate to approve such a course of action.

Ridership continues to slump

Transit commissioners also heard that ridership on OC Transpo remained at just 28 per cent of pre-pandemic levels at the end of November, a figure that has stayed relatively flat over the fall months.

OC Transpo's Pat Scrimgeour parsed that figure, explaining that ridership on the Confederation Line sits at just 20 per cent because downtown office workers and university students are the main users. Bus routes have seen an average decline in ridership of about 40 per cent, he said.

This slide, presented by city staff to transit commissioners on Dec. 16, shows ridership sits at about 28 per cent of pre-COVID levels. (City of Ottawa)

The transit commission also heard more about efforts to reduce the noise the LRT makes as it rounds a curved section of track near Hurdman station. The noise won't fully disappear, but should diminish, said Manconi.

Finally, gas-powered track switch heaters have now been installed on the Confederation Line. The old switches created serious problems when they froze last winter.

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