Former rail inspector 'concerned' about Ottawa LRT axle issues

The ongoing axle bearing issues with Ottawa’s light-rail trains is cause for concern, according to the former head of rail investigations at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Bearings should last for 10 years minimum, according to former TSB investigator

Crews walk along the Confederation Line in Ottawa one day after the axle of this out-of-service LRT train dislodged from the rail. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

The ongoing axle bearing issues with Ottawa's light-rail trains is cause for concern, according to the former head of federal rail investigations.

Ten train cars in OC Transpo's fleet of 39 are currently in need of repair following an investigation into a broken axle that shut down the O-Train Confederation line for almost a week earlier this month.

Ian Naish, a transportation safety consultant who used to work for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), says the defect should not be happening after only two years in service.

"You'll design bearings such as these for a 10-year minimum period before failure and/or expected failure," Naish told the CBC's Joanne Chianello.

Ian Naish, former director of rail investigations at the TSB, says emerging issues with the axle bearings of Ottawa's LRT should not happen after only two years of use. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

Naish said the fact almost one-quarter of the Alstom trains were removed from service could point to a larger issue with the design of the transit system, manufacturing, assembly or maintenance.

"That should not be happening at all. And so would I be concerned? Yes, I would," he said.

Earlier this week, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the chair of the transit commission, Allan Hubley, rejected calls for an emergency meeting to discuss the LRT shutdown, the ongoing TSB investigation, and issues with double-decker buses.

Instead, the pair said daily memos from the City of Ottawa on the response to the axle-bearing issues were sufficient, and OC Transpo needs to focus on fixing the LRT instead of reporting to city councillors.

The next transit commission meeting is currently scheduled for Sept. 20.

Several questions do remain, including details about what issues were discovered on other trains and the sort of repairs that were conducted. 

Based on the information available about what led to the wheel snapping off a train, Naish said an axle bearing — connecting either end of the axle to a wheel — was not properly installed, which could pose an ongoing risk.

"Something's going to break and the wheel's going to come off because everything is seized up," Naish said.

The green nut inside the axle bearing was loose, which allowed movement that led to the axle breaking and derailing. (Provided by the City of Ottawa)

All operating trains passed inspection, city says

Rideau Transit Maintenance has begun regular, planned inspections of each rail car to make sure they're safe to operate until the "root cause analysis" is completed to address problems with the axle bearings more permanently, according to a City of Ottawa memo released Friday.

John Manconi, general manager of transportation services, said in the memo all vehicles in service have passed the inspection process and are being inspected and monitored on an ongoing basis.

Another train is now under repair after it suddenly stopped on the tracks between Tremblay and Hurdman stations around 2 p.m. Friday.

"The train's brakes activated, the train came to a sudden stop, and the brakes did not release," Troy Charter, the city's director of transit operations wrote in an email to CBC. 

That train is now in OC Transpo's maintenance facility where the issue will be diagnosed, but Charter said it's unrelated to the axle-bearing problem of the other cars. 

Manconi said the nine single cars currently out of service will return as repairs and new inspections are completed.

The car with the broken wheel will take longer, though, and it is part of determining the cause of the issue, he added.

The transit commission will get the results of that investigation at next month's meeting, but that is too long to wait, according to several commission members.

Coun. Catherine McKenney said daily memos are no replacement for asking staff questions in a public forum, and councillors Shawn Menard and Carol-Anne Meehan have not been able to get the answers they've wanted from staff.

"It's deeply concerning that we cannot get answers to questions designed to keep our residents who rely on transit safe," McKenney said, adding people who use the train on a regular basis often have no alternative and deserve answers.

The axle of an LRT train on Ottawa's Confederation Line came dislodged from the rail on Aug. 8, prompting an investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

The transit commission is split on the idea of an emergency meeting. Coun. Tim Tierney said he does have questions for the Sept. 20 meeting about root causes, but would support a special meeting if there is another disruption in service.

Councillors Glen Gower, Jean Cloutier and Jenna Sudds — the latter of whom is on unpaid leave while running in the federal election — said they're satisfied with the responsiveness of OC Transpo staff.


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