Ottawa

Misaligned screw caused cracked LRT wheels, city says

OC Transpo officials say the LRT's wheels developed cracks earlier this summer because of misaligned screws that put stress on the wheels.

'We're in a much better place than we were months ago,' Manconi says of LRT

City officials say Alstom has determined a root cause for why wheels cracked in July, but the Transportation Safety Board is still investigating. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

OC Transpo officials say some of the LRT's wheels developed cracks earlier this summer because of an "improperly aligned screw" that put stress on a part of the wheel.

During an update at transit commission on Wednesday, transit operations director Troy Charter said that was the root cause determined by Rideau Transit Group and train-maker Alstom.

But transportation general manager John Manconi later emphasized that the Transportation Safety Board itself hasn't reached that conclusion yet and is still investigating. That investigation could take up to a year, he said.

Alstom replaced the few wheels that had cracked and intends to replace every last train wheel by spring 2021, Charter said.

But cracked wheels were just one of many issues that officials covered, as they brought commissioners up to speed on how Rideau Transit Group has been working through its plan to fix the LRT's problems.

New software, new track heaters

"There are no debates about what needs to be fixed," Manconi told commissioners, and he praised the new CEO at Rideau Transit Maintenance, Mario Guerra, for dealing with the list.

"We have collectively made significant, significant progress, and we're in a much better place than we were months ago," said Manconi, adding the train has run reliably for the past couple of months.

"This not a fluke," said Manconi, "It's not just because of low ridership."

RTG has installed new software so that jammed doors are rarely a problem. A software upgrade has also dealt with automatic braking issues that were causing wheels to develop flat spots. The overhead power lines, known as the catenary, have been adjusted from end to end.

Problematic track switches in the east end are getting "more powerful" natural gas heaters rather than electric ones to keep them free of ice and snow, said Charter.

The consortium remains in default on its contract, however, and Manconi said RTG "has to climb themselves out" by providing months during which the LRT performs well.

Financial forecast

Councillors and commissioners also learned ridership sits at just 28 per cent of normal levels, and the city's financial projections see COVID-19 causing $123.7 million in pressures for transit, of which upper levels of government have so far promised to cover $75 million.

Coun. Theresa Kavanagh wondered if the city should consider moving away from its long-held ratio of having transit operations paid half by fares and about half from property taxes.

"Shouldn't we be looking, since everything is on the table, at moving away from a fare-revenue system and more of a tax-based system, if we're considering [transit] an essential service?"

It's an idea a few of her colleagues also feel the city should pursue.

Many LRT stations have been quiet, even during rush hour, during the pandemic. (Simon Lasalle/CBC)

But Coun. Riley Brockington sees empty buses travel past and said transit service should match demand, especially given how transit is expected to cause the biggest issues for the upcoming 2021 draft budget.

"That is a significant thing we need to wrestle," said Brockington. "There has to be a better way for us to control our costs."

Manconi said both Kavanagh's and Brockington's ideas would call for a significant change in policy.

Despite fears the federal and provincial governments might not provide extra funding to help cities close the gap on their transit losses from COVID-19 shutdowns, he said service cuts would be a "tricky slope to go down" and it's "premature" to talk about them now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Porter

Reporter

Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.

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