Ottawa

New heaters for LRT track switches delayed

With winter approaching, Ottawa transit commissioners and staff are concerned that some problematic switches on the light rail tracks won't get their new gas-powered heaters until early December.

Switches that caused problems in east end will get permanent, gas-powered heaters

Rideau Transit plans to install gas-powered heaters at three of the Confederation Line's most problematic track switches, but they might not be in place by the time the snow falls. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

With winter approaching, Ottawa transit commissioners and staff are concerned that some problematic switches on the light rail tracks won't get their new gas-powered heaters until early December.

Transit officials have said this winter will be the true test of whether Rideau Transit has managed to fix the LRT's many issues.

During the train's inaugural winter, switches that got stuck on the eastern leg of the Confederation Line were responsible for some of the train's many disruptions.

Transit commissioners have discussed the heaters before, and had learned the Trillium Line has heaters powered by propane and natural gas, whereas the new Confederation Line's were originally electric.

Rideau Transit Group had promised to install new natural gas heaters at three switches near Blair, St. Laurent and Tremblay stations by the end of October, but delays in signing off on engineering designs has pushed that to late November or early December, city staff said.

"It's disappointing," said chair Coun. Allan Hubley of the delays.

"I'm not confident that these trains will get through winter without issues with our switches," said Coun. Riley Brockington.

In the meantime, Rideau Transit plans to have temporary propane heaters at those switches, and will use a glycol liquid to de-ice the track, transit commission heard.

Jamming doors on purpose

On the whole, however, Ottawa's light rail system is running reliably and 15 trains are on the line most rush hours, staff told transit commission.

Rideau Transit continues to work on the list of outstanding problems, but transportation general manager John Manconi acknowledged the difficulty of not being able to test the fixes with a full load of passengers. Ridership for OC Transpo in September was just 30 per cent of typical levels because of COVID-19.

Instead, Manconi says the transit agency sent people out to try to jam the doors with backpacks without alerting the train operators or Rideau Transit Maintenance.

"The door software is performing very, very well," Manconi concluded.

"I would love to have a full system to test it. We don't have that. We have COVID."

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