Ottawa

From dirty roofs to flat wheels: 8 causes of LRT delays

Members of Ottawa's transit commission assemble for a special meeting Thursday to discuss what's behind issues on the city's four-month-old Confederation Line. 

Transit commission holding special meeting Thursday afternoon

When Ottawa's light rail trains aren't running, passengers on platforms see messages such as this. (Jean-Sébastien Marier/Radio-Canada)

Members of Ottawa's transit commission assemble for a special meeting Thursday to discuss what's behind issues on the city's four-month-old Confederation Line. 

The light-rail system has been thrown off schedule at least once each of the last eight days, the longest streak of disruptions to its schedule since its launch in late summer.

This is the fourth straight day the system doesn't have enough trains to keep its schedule because of the number of trains out of service for repairs.

Members of the transit commission plan to question officials with both OC Transpo and Rideau Transit Maintenance, the company contracted to maintain the LRT, about these recent problems.

So far, OC Transpo has shared 14 different reasons why the LRT has had trouble running reliably and on time.

Here's a look at eight of them:

Door jams

Malfunctioning doors were one of the first major issues.

In October, repeated door jams prompted the city to look at how Rideau Transit Group installed the sensors to make sure they were calibrated properly.

Street level at Tunney's Pasture station during an LRT delay caused by door issues on Oct. 9, 2019. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The city also ramped up communications to passengers not to force open doors.

OC Transpo has pointed to door issues 15 times as the cause of LRT delays.

On-board computers

A problem with a computer controlling one train caused big crowds to form at stations in October.

Computer resets should happen quite quickly, the city said at the time.

The delay prompted the city to look into why the on-board computer couldn't be rebooted faster.

That's the only time OC Transpo has specifically said a computer failure was to blame.

System-wide computers

In November, the city cited central computer system problems for delays on the LRT.

We don't yet know much about this issue.

Switches

In the fall, the city said fibreglass covers protecting sensors from snow at track switches were an issue.

The covers were then removed and maintenance workers were expected to increase the number of times snow was cleared from the sensors and monitor for build-up.

Fibreglass covers on the switches along the Confederation Line were to be removed, the city said, after they were to blame for delays. (City of Ottawa)

On Saturday the city blamed snow, a lack of maintenance and a heater that was not working properly for switch issues at Blair station that caused a two-and-a-half hour delay. 

On Sunday a switch at Blair malfunctioned again but it's not clear whether snow was the culprit. 

Switch problems have been singled out as the cause of a Confederation Line issue nine times.

Dirt on train roofs

Keeping train roofs clear of dirt and debris is proving to be a challenge for Rideau Transit Maintenance.

Earlier in January the city blamed a buildup of gunk around the pantograph, the accordion-like apparatus on the roofs of LRT trains that connect to the power source, for two trains stopping on New Year's Eve.

A snagged power cable

We still do not know how a lengthy power cable got pulled at down at St. Laurent station on Jan. 16, causing OC Transpo to stop running trains between Hurdman and Blair stations.

Rideau Transit Maintenance has said it appears the wire got snagged on something as the train entered the station but the root cause is still under investigation. 

The train affected by the broken cable had to undergo repairs and was pulled out of service, contributing to the train shortage this week. 

This diagram shows two different ways of hanging power lines for Confederation Line trains, divided by the dotted line. To the left is how it works in open-air stations, to the right is how it is supported in stations with lower roofs. At St-Laurent, it switches between the two. (City of Ottawa)

Flat wheels

When LRT train wheels don't turn, they drag.

It's an issue known as wheel flats and it's something crews with Rideau Transit Maintenance are supposed to be keeping a close eye on.

The city blamed wheel flats as the main reason OC Transpo couldn't run enough trains during rush hour this week.

The chair of Ottawa's transit commission, Coun. Allan Hubley, said Tuesday he doesn't believe Rideau Transit Maintenance has been doing a thorough enough job watching for flats.

A compressor fault

A compressor fault was one of the reasons cited by the city this week for train shortages. 

We have yet to receive more details about this problem.

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