Repairs to LRT's overhead powerlines could take 'days,' GM says

The city's general manager of transit services says some trains are expected to return to the western part of the Confederation Line tomorrow, but repairs to damaged overhead wires could take days.

LRT route replaced by R1 buses west of St-Laurent station

OC Transpo says additional crews and equipment were sent to a section of track between Lees and uOttawa stations to re-string overhead powerlines on the LRT. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The city's general manager of transit services says some trains are expected to return to service along the western part of the Confederation Line Tuesday, but repairs to damaged overhead wires could "take several days."

The majority of Ottawa's east-west LRT line — from Tunney's Pasture station across the downtown core to St-Laurent station — has been replaced with bus service since Monday morning due to "technical issues." 

CBC sources say a lightning strike on Sunday night brought down 900 metres of overhead catenary wires, used to power the trains.

In a memo to council late Monday, Renée Amilcar said some trains will return between Tunney's Pasture and Rideau stations, and between St-Laurent and Blair, by Tuesday afternoon once a section of track is cleared.

Replacement buses will continue to run between Rideau and St-Laurent, she said.

Amilcar said additional crews and equipment were on their way to a section of LRT between uOttawa and Lees stations Monday to re-string overhead wires with repairs and inspections starting Tuesday. 

"It is anticipated that these activities will take several days to complete," the memo said.

Amilcar said OC Transpo is waiting for Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) to complete "minor repairs" to the second set of tracks on the Confederation Line before restarting rail service.

"We appreciate that this is not the level of service that our customers expect and deserve," Amilcar said.

The update to councillors came more than 12 hours after OC Transpo first posted about the service disruption on Twitter Monday morning. 

On Saturday, OC Transpo pulled several trains off the rail because of concerns about wheel problems after a driver reported unusual vibrations. 

Amilcar said the two issues  — the concerns about wheels and the lightning strike — are unrelated.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Coun. Allan Hubley, chair of the transit commission, said he's optimistic full service will be restored within a couple of days "at most." 

"If it hadn't been for the lightning strike we wouldn't have as big an issue with service today," he said.

Amid LRT closures, passengers at Hurdman Station found themselves unable to board a crowded westbound R1 replacement bus Monday afternoon. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Hubley noted one LRT train can carry 600 people, equivalent to eight buses, and he doesn't want to see riders inconvenienced with R1 replacement buses.

Sarah Wright-Gilbert, a citizen transit commissioner, said this latest service disruption does nothing to rebuild trust among OC Transpo riders and the people in charge of maintaining the system.

"Even though lightning striking is certainly not something that is the fault of RTM or OC Transpo, it just adds fuel to the discontent of Ottawa residents who use our public transit system," Wright-Gilbert said. 

Both Wright-Gilbert and Hubley agreed the city and RTM should look at whether the overhead catenary system is appropriately shielded from the elements, including lightning.

Mayor Jim Watson was not available for an interview Monday.

The Ottawa Light Rail Transit Commission, the provincial public inquiry into the LRT's Stage 1 breakdowns and derailments, is ongoing. 


Matthew Kupfer

CBC Reporter

Matthew Kupfer has been a reporter and producer at CBC News since 2012. He can be reached at and on Twitter @matthewkupfer

With files from Joanne Chianello