Ontario Premier Doug Ford calls Ottawa’s light rail ‘a mess’ during latest system-wide shutdown

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An Ottawa LRT train pulls into uOttawa station on July 24, 2022.

Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

For the third straight day, the light rail system serving the country’s capital was paralyzed on Wednesday due to technical problems. The latest in a series of problems for the Confederation Line saw visiting Ontario Premier Doug Ford describe the system as “a mess”.

“We have put a tremendous amount of money into the LRT. “We turned it over to the City of Ottawa,” Mr Ford said when the Confederation Line raised concerns about a health notice at an Ottawa hospital.

Mr. Ford paused to consider how to proceed, recalling a public inquiry into the $2.1 billion scheme that was reported last December and found, among other things, that the scheme rushed into put into operation before it was finished.

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“I don’t know,” he finally said. “It was a disaster. That’s all I can say.”

Out on the streets of Ottawa, buses carry the loads of passengers destined for them LRT, which launched to much fanfare in 2019, includes 13 stations in central Ottawa, including one about a block from Parliament Hill.

The latest issue, which emerged on Monday, is a problem with a train’s axle box – a situation that has led to the inspection of all trains used in the system.

This week’s edition is not an outlier. Complete system shutdowns, which would be unprecedented in other Canadian cities, are commonplace in the nation’s capital.

For example, while the Vancouver region’s automated SkyTrain system experienced two system shutdowns in the last decade, keeping track of the Confederation Line’s problems in the Ottawa area is challenging.

In September 2021, the Confederation Line was shut down for a month and 23 days due to problems with bolts on trains. There were also derailment problems. Last year the LRT was completely shut down due to freezing rain and problems with the wheel hub assemblies. Last July, a lightning strike on exposed system wiring resulted in a four-day shutdown.

Amer Shalaby, an engineering professor at the University of Toronto whose specialty includes the design and operation of public transit, said in an email exchange on Wednesday that based on his anecdotal observation of LRT systems in the United States and Europe, he still never heard of any further investigation Total business disruption is such a common occurrence.

The general supervisor of Edmonton’s LRT system said Wednesday it was rare to contemplate a system-wide shutdown. In a statement, Chris Nelson said the Alberta city experiences minor maintenance shutdowns every year. As for a general shutdown, he cited only two cases, one in 2018 and one in 2019, and both were planned attempts to allow the signaling system to be tested.

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On Wednesday afternoon, OC Transpo, which offers transit service throughout Ottawa, issued an update that lists current efforts to fix the issues but makes no commitments about resuming service.

It said 44 light rail vehicles had had their axle hub assemblies and underbody checked and found no problems. The light rail vehicle’s axle hub assembly, which was found to have a problem, was sent to the manufacturer for detailed investigation. A test train also runs on the tracks.

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On the question of a plan to restart, the update said the Rideau Transit Group consortium contracted to build the first phase of the system is “currently developing a plan.” The consortium, a The public-private membership group consists of ACS Infrastructure Canada, EllisDon Corp. and SNC lavaline.

The Confederate line was formed under the mayorship of Jim Watson, who ruled the city for a total of 15 years but did not seek re-election last fall.

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Mr Ford said on Wednesday he thinks current Mayor Mark Sutcliffe’s world is a possibility and hopes the former broadcaster and businessman can sort out the situation around the Confederation line. “We are there to support him wherever we can,” said the prime minister.

Mr Ford said he hoped a second phase of the scheme, currently under construction, would be better implemented.

Mr Sutcliffe said on Wednesday that the LRT service could only be provided if there was 100 per cent confidence in the security of the system, noting that no level of risk was acceptable.

“I support the idea of ​​being extremely, extremely careful,” Mr Sutcliffe said in an interview on CFRA’s NewsTalk 580 radio station Morning Rush with Bill Carroll.

He said it’s about holding contractors accountable for the service the city is paying for and making the Confederation Line just as reliable as other transit systems.


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