Ottawa

LRT control system crash and rail warping not normal: Manconi

First it was door jams, followed by computer failures and frozen switches. Now it's cracked wheels, warping rails and control console crashes. And scale of some of the lastes problems are "greater than expected," admits OC Transpo boss John Manconi.

The OC Transpo boss has written two different memos in the last week about latest Confederation Line issues

Weeks after OC Transpo said track alignment problems were not uncommon on rail systems, it now admits that problem is happening more often than normal on the Confederation Line. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

First it was door jams, followed by computer failures and frozen switches. Now it's cracked wheels, warping tracks and control console crashes.

The $2.1-billion Confederation Line has been plagued with problems since it was launched publicly less than a year ago, and the list of issues keeps growing.

The latest glitch: technical issues that affected the communications systems both in the control room — the central computer system that speaks to trains out on the track — and the back-up system in the maintenance facility.

On Tuesday, OC Transpo boss John Manconi sent a memo to members of council and the transit commission, explaining a major malfunction that occurred late last week.

Like your own PC, the console reached a point that they needed to be shut down and rebooted.- John Manconi, general manager, Transportation Services

Around 9:45 p.m. last Thursday, a stationary train in the maintenance storage facility "started sending numerous fault alarms" to the Confederation Line's central communications system — "literally millions of them," wrote Manconi.

"This caused the system to slow down and like your own PC, the console reached a point that they needed to be shut down and rebooted. As soon as this was identified and the train was shut down, the alarms stopped and the system was cleared."

The entire Confederation Line was shut down until about 1 a.m., replaced by the R1 bus service, until the issue was resolved. 

"At no time was safety compromised, at no time did the system not perform as designed with multiple layers of safety alarms, triggers, warnings, etc.," he wrote.

Manconi said that problem is now being reviewed to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Sarah Wright-Gilbert, a citizen transit commissioner, says she doesn't believe RTG will have 15 trains on the tracks in less than two weeks. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

But citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert said she feels more than a review is needed, considering the number of problems that keep cropping up. 

Take, for example, the surprising admission by Manconi that rails warped by heat are a bigger problem than the city's transit officials first thought.

While the heat related issues are not uncommon ... the effect on Line 1 is greater than expected and RTG is required to implement a permanent fix to the track.- John Manconi

Originally, OC Transpo had said track alignment issues occur with all rail systems in hot weather, which force trains to slow down significantly. But now, Ottawa's transit boss admits that the track problems on the Confederation Line aren't normal.

"While the heat related issues are not uncommon on rail networks, the effect on Line 1 is greater than expected and RTG is required to implement a permanent fix to the track," Manconi wrote in another memo sent last Friday, in response to an inquiry from Coun. Shawn Menard. 

The admission caught Wright-Gilbert by surprise.

"This is the first time that I'm hearing about it officially from OC Transpo," she said.

Commissioner wants TSB to look at more than wheels

Then there's the four cracked wheels, for which there is still no known cause. It's an issue serious enough that the Transportation Safety Board (TSB)  launched an official investigation into the problem.

Wright-Gilbert believes the agency should be looking at more than just the wheels.

"My hope is that TSB will be looking at everything, from the train to the tracks to maintenance records, everything," she said. "I really think we need that level of oversight at this point on this line to ensure customer safety and to bring a level of comfort to our customers."

She also has doubts the RTG will make a promised deadline that's fast approaching — to run 15 double-vehicle trains at the start of next month.

"There is absolutely no way that they're going to meet the August 4th deadline," she said.

"Even if they did, I'd be surprised if those 15 trains [that] actually made it out of the line, if any of them would actually remain on the line for very long."

With files from Joanne Chianello

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