Ottawa insists LRT is safe despite safety board saying wheel hub issues not fixed
February 20, 2023 | By Cindy Tran
Ottawa transit officials say the city’s beleaguered light-rail system is safe even though concerns were raised earlier this month by the Transportation Safety Board.
The safety board said on Feb. 3 that the problems that caused a train derailment in 2021 and an axle wheel hub failure last summer haven’t been resolved and still pose a safety risk.
Vincenzo De Angelis, the board’s director of investigations, said the cause of the derailment was the failure of the cartridge assemblies which contain the bearings and where the wheels attach. He said that it was likely due to the design of the Alstom Citadis Spirit vehicle, the type of train developed specifically for Ottawa’s light rail system.
“These cartridge assembly failures continue to pose a risk to safety until the issues are resolved,” wrote De Angelis.
At Thursday’s inaugural LRT subcommittee meeting, Ottawa transit services manager Renee Amilcar told reporters that there are mitigation strategies in place to manage the risk.
“It’s safe to take the train,” said Amilcar.
In a memo sent this week Amilcar said OC Transpo and the Rideau Transit Group have met with the safety board since the Feb. 3 letter to discuss the safety of the train and next steps.
She said Rideau Transit Maintenance does a daily inspection before the launch of every vehicle, and the axles are inspected every 7,500 km. They are replaced every 175,000 km. The parts are supposed to last 1.2 million km.
City Coun. Shawn Menard said at Thursday’s meeting that what’s needed is a permanent fix to the system’s long-term issues.
“At the end of the day, it’s beyond just maintenance,” he said. “It’s infrastructure issues. And we heard today that there’s going to be changes to track and trains it seems like in the future.”
“It’s time to get to the bottom of why that’s occurring, fix those issues and exercise our rights in the project agreements around maintenance and around infrastructure that’s been built for this city.”
Ottawa’s light-rail system, which began operating along a single 12.5 km line with 13 stations in 2019, has been riddled with problems from day one, including doors that wouldn’t close properly, wheels that became flat after use, and a frustrating inconsistency operating in winter weather.
A public inquiry called to look into how the $2.1-billion project has gone so off the rails uncovered a litany of issues, including that the city chose an unproven technology that strained the limits of what light-rail systems can usually do.
The inquiry produced more than 100 recommendations last fall. All but eight are on the city to implement.
But the city has yet to show how it plans to do that and is already well into the construction of the second stage of the system, adding 44 km and 24 more stations, including a new north-south line that will go to Ottawa’s main airport.
Amilcar said an update on the city’s plan to respond to the recommendations will be ready before the next LRT committee meeting.
One recommendation was to rip up the tracks if needed, to provide a better system. As stage 2 construction continues city staff say they see no reason to do that just yet. But they also say they have not completely ruled it out or the idea of getting new trains, even though they’ve already received 72 vehicles for stage 2.
Richard Holder, the city’s director of engineering services, said Thursday that before making concrete plans to strengthen stage 2, an analysis is being done by Rideau Transit Group, the consortium contracted to design, build and maintain the system.
He said as soon as that analysis identifies problems, corrections will be made both to the tracks and vehicles as needed.