LRT fix could take 3 weeks after latest derailment

It could be up to three weeks before Ottawa's light rail system is fully back up and running after a derailment Sunday, according to the CEO of the consortium that maintains the Confederation Line.

Dislodged sander bracket possible cause of Sunday's incident, transit commission told

Police officers speak with an OC Transpo official on Sept. 19, 2021, not long after an LRT train left the Confederation Line tracks near Tremblay station. No one was injured in the derailment. (Nicholas Cleroux/Radio-Canada)

It could be up to three weeks before Ottawa's light rail system is fully back up and running after a derailment Sunday, according to the CEO of the consortium that maintains the Confederation Line.

The westbound train left the tracks around 12:15 p.m. just west of Tremblay station. Nobody was injured. 

The derailment is the second in less than two months on Ottawa's LRT system, which just celebrated its second anniversary in service.

"We have realized attending the scene today with the [Transportation Safety Board] and the city that there's a lot more infrastructure damage than we originally thought," Mario Guerra, CEO of Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM), told reporters on Monday after a long transit commission meeting during which members expressed concern about losing public confidence in the LRT system.

"To get the entire system back up and running ... I would say three weeks probably."

That timeline assumes RTM can satisfy an independent safety expert of its plan to resume operations, Guerra added. The independent review was approved by the commission on Monday.

Transportation general manager John Manconi, who will soon retire after a 32-year career with the city, said he's assembling a group to perform an "end-to-end [review] of the entire system."

"We're not tone deaf, we know there's concern about safety and confidence out there," Manconi said.

    Dislodged bracket may have caused derailment

    During Monday's meeting, Manconi said the latest derailment appears to have been caused by a bracket on a sanding unit that became "dislodged."

    "A sander that is used on these vehicles ... that dispenses sand at the wheels during cold weather climates or icy climates for the rail traction, the bracket that holds that unit could have become dislodged and could have caused the derailment," John Manconi told the city's transit commission Monday at its first meeting since June.

    Manconi underscored that the finding is by no means conclusive, but stems from conversations among safety experts. Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigators haven't confirmed the cause of the derailment.

    Manconi said the derailment does not appear to be have been caused by a problem with the train's axles, though OC Transpo's Troy Charter confirmed the car involved in the most recent incident was among the 10 that underwent axle repairs following an earlier derailment on Aug. 8.

    Ottawa transit officials have shared this image of the train car that derailed on Aug 8. When the train was being lifted, it became clear that a wheel had detached from its axle, OC Transpo's Troy Charter said Monday. (City of Ottawa)

      OC Transpo officials also provided details about that earlier derailment in which a wheel came off an axle of a train car. 

      As for a double-decker bus that went into a ditch on Aug. 9, city staff said some bolts in the steering system had come loose. Nineteen other buses of the same model were taken off the road, and five were found in need of adjustment to their steering systems.

      Public confidence lost?

      Transit commission members and other city councillors, who say they're worried the LRT's serious problems will keep riders away, spent hours Monday grilling Manconi and Rideau Transit Group (RTG), the consortium that includes RTM.

      Coun. Shawn Menard urged Coun. Allan Hubley to step down as chair of the commission to restore the public's faith, but Hubley refused.

      River ward Coun. Riley Brockington asked what would happen if a train were to derail while travelling much faster.

      "I would hate to speculate," RTG's CEO Nicolas Truchon told him.

      Innes ward Coun. Laura Dudas wanted to know if the city was a "guinea pig" for new technology, or if it had simply "bought a lemon."

      Manconi insisted the LRT's problems are "fixable." RTG had been "debugging" the vehicles and had a relatively problem-free year until recently, he noted.

      Many of the problems could be solved if subcontractor Alstom would send enough people to the city, Manconi said.

      Coun. Catherine McKenney doubted Alstom would send the "army" Manconi seeks, however. Instead, McKenney called for a pair of task forces, including one made up of external, independent rail experts to review the entire system and get to the bottom of things.

      Transit commission voted that down 6 to 5 after learning a similar review is already in the works.

      City executives told the commission that outside legal counsel had enlisted British firm Mott MacDonald to review how RTG ended up in default on its contract with the City of Ottawa. Those findings will eventually be shared privately with city council.