Computer failure caused Thursday's LRT delay

Thursday morning's light rail delay — the third delay in as many days this week — was caused by a failure of one train's on-board computer, the city says.

Morning commute crippled for 3rd straight day

Crowds of light rail passengers wait for a train to arrive at Tunney's Pasture station on Oct. 10, 2019. An on-board computer failed at around 7:20 a.m., causing delays on Ottawa's LRT line for the third straight day. (Kate Tenenhouse/CBC)

Thursday morning's light rail delay — the third straight delay this week — was caused by a failure of one train's on-board computer, the city says.

In a memo released Thursday afternoon, general manager of transportation services John Manconi said the computer controlling one train failed around 7:20 a.m. and had to be reset. 

"This reset process involved rebooting the system and engaging technical support staff. Normally, this is a relatively quick reset and we are investigating why there was a delay in the process," reads Manconi's memo to council. 

The train was disabled at Bayview station, causing delays on the western section of the LRT as trains between Tunney's Pasture and Lyon station had to run on a single track. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday morning, problems with train doors caused similar pauses in service. Manconi said Thursday's computer problems resulted in 20-to-30-minute delays and the system returned to normal at about 8:30 a.m. 

Bayview station was badly backed up after a computer problem brought one train to a halt. (Tony Joniec)

'Growing pains' 

Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, the former chair of the city's transit commission, said they didn't expect these problems but are working to address them.

"There are some growing pains that we knew would come. I think they are more painful than we thought they would be. I hope everyone can understand and be patient. I know that's a lot to ask," Blais said.

"You know, my wife's been late three three days in a row, I think, for work herself."

Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower said the city must improve. 

"It's been pretty awful so far. Three days in a row where we've had delays, significant delays on the morning commute. I'm frustrated. I know residents are frustrated and we've got to get these things fixed."

Common issue 

Jeff Casello, a professor in the school of planning at the University of Waterloo, said the computer crash could have been compounded by the system trying to gather data on the problem. 

"We have to gather as much information as we can at the time of the crash and that can slow down the reboot," he said on CBC's All In A Day

Casello said this is something that would have been difficult to see in testing. 

"It's like every morning the car starts until you go out for the job interview, and that is the morning that it doesn't start."

He said doors are often a problem with new transit systems and they often don't crop up until the system starts carrying passengers. However, the doors should not be leading to broader failures. 

"The fact that you are having trouble with the doors doesn't surprise me. The fact the system is unable to recover quickly surprises me."

Infrastructure changes 

Manconi also said the city is making changes to Tunney's Pasture and Blair stations, which have seen serious bottlenecks in recent days.

At Tunney's Pasture, a railing on the north side of the station is being extended to keep people off the roadway. The city has also widened both the north and south platforms by paving behind bus shelters. 

Manconi said they're also looking at the feasibility of installing "weather protection" for portions of the platform.

Riders wait for a train at Tunney's Pasture LRT station at around 8 a.m. on Oct. 10, 2019. The computer controlling one train on the light rail line failed about 40 minutes earlier, causing delays. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

At Blair station, some bus routes are being reassigned to different spots along the platform and more signage is being added to guide people. 

They're also keeping additional buses on standby, as well as tow trucks in case those buses break down. 

Manconi apologized in the memo and said the city is working to get service up to snuff. He also said they're coming up with a plan to install strap hangers on the trains to help those who can't reach the grab bars. 

"We are focused and committed to doing what is necessary to ensure that we provide the reliable O-Train service that Ottawa expects and deserves," he said. 


with files from Kate Porter/CBC


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