Ottawa·Timeline

The turbulent 1st year of Ottawa's LRT network

It launched late, it broke down over and over, and then it got sideswiped by a pandemic. Save for a few fleeting moments of new-train-smell optimism, that's the story of the first year of light rail in Ottawa.

Breakdowns, letdowns — then COVID-19

All aboard: Passengers hurry into Tunney's Pasture station on Sept. 14, 2019, to be among the first to ride on Ottawa's new Confederation Line. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

It launched late, it broke down over and over, and then it got sideswiped by a pandemic.

Save for a few fleeting moments of new-train-smell optimism, that's the story of the first year of light rail in Ottawa.

And sure, many of you may not want to relive that whole experience. But just in case, we've put together this month-by-month account of a year that proved immensely frustrating, politically volatile and unexpectedly smelly.

September

  • The Confederation Line opens to the public on the afternoon of Sept. 14, more than one year behind schedule. Enthusiastic riders pile on board, taking photos and sharing high-fives, while Mayor Jim Watson declares, "The future of transit in Ottawa starts now."
  • Two days later, during afternoon rush hour, the first train glitch pops up: an unspecified "technical issue" that causes an eight-minute delay.
  • As further delays occur, complaints begin to arise that OC Transpo isn't properly informing riders. The agency promises to do better.
  • pair of raccoons move into Pimisi station.
A transit rider gives a police officer a high five on the first day of Ottawa's light rail system on Sept. 14, 2019. (CBC)

October

November

A man holds his hand up to his face as he rides Ottawa's LRT line on Nov. 1, 2019. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

December

January 

  • Unfortunately, 2020 gets off to an inauspicious start when, on Jan. 16, an overhead power line breaks and falls on a train at St-Laurent station, causing the longest delay to date.
  • Full service isn't restored until the following morning, and both the City of Ottawa and RTG hold a news conference to issue a public apology.
  • A switch issue befalls the line during a snowstorm Jan. 18,  leading to a two-and-a-half-hour delay.
  • The same problem crops up the next day, along with a jammed door issue at Hurdman station and smoke in the downtown tunnel.
  • On Jan. 20, OC Tranpso says it's taking three of its 13 trains offline due to mechanical issues.
  • As even more trains are taken offline — primarily due to flat wheels — transit chair Allan Hubley blames all the problems on Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM), an RTG offshoot that is supposed to keep the trains in working order.
  • The city continues withholding monthly payments to RTG/RTM because of the poor service, something its contract permits. By now roughly $20 million has been kept back.
  • By Jan. 30, the line has been short trains for nine consecutive weekdays. Riders also begin noticing a strange odour at Rideau station that smells like rotten eggs.

February

Light rail passengers wait for buses to show up at the Hurdman LRT station during service delays on Feb. 26, 2020. (Jean-Sébastien Marier/Radio-Canada)

March

April

May

Mayor Jim Watson hands out a free mask to a woman at Tunney's Pasture station on June 14, 2020, one day before mask use becomes mandatory throughout Ottawa's transit system. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

June

July 

  • A new problem pops up July 2 when workers find a crack in one train's steel wheels. OC Transpo launches a fleet-wide inspection, leading to service reductions.
  • On July 4, Manconi says more defective wheels have been found and that only seven trains will be in operation for the foreseeable future.
  • The cracked wheel issues draw the attention of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which decides to launch a formal investigation into the matter.
  • Manconi tells council in a July 21 memo that a train recently started malfunctioning while in the storage facility, sending "literally millions" of false alarms. He also reveals that warping of the rail lines due to hot weather is a bigger problem than originally thought.

August

  • RTG finally provides all 17 LRT trains — 15 for active service, plus two backups — to OC Transpo, but ongoing inspections for cracked wheels mean the line still only has 13 trains running at any given time.
  • The city says it will be withholding more than $40 million from RTG because of the line's problems.

September

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