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OC Transpo can no longer confirm when LRT will return to service

OC Transpo now says it can no longer confirm when LRT service will resume, after initially saying they expected the latest shutdown to end by now and later adding 10 more days of work was needed.

In a memo to city council, transportation services general manager Renée Amilcar said Rideau Transit Group (RTG), Alstom and OC Transpo with Transportation Resource Associates (TRA) worked over the weekend to determine the required actions to begin a full risk assessment.

But Amilcar said that a timeline for when trains will run on the tracks again cannot be confirmed.

“At this time, OC Transpo cannot provide an anticipated date for the safe resumption of service,” Amilcar wrote.

During a news conference, Amilcar said she hoped to have work on the new risk assessment completed by Wednesday, which would then start the 10 days of additional work needed to restore service, but she stressed that this is not a firm date.

She also said that there will need to be trial running on the line prior to customers being able to board again. 

The memo notes that RTG has retained engineering firm Atkins Global, a subsidiary of SNC Lavalin, one of the companies involved in building the line, to advise them on where to reposition restraining rails on the tracks, which are used to minimize forces on the axle hub. Last week, Amilcar said work on the restraining rails was to be completed by Sunday, but then said Friday that additional actions were required to ensure there is no contact between the train wheel and the restraining rail.

Amilcar said the changes to the restraining rails could move them by one to two millimetres to ensure they continue to serve their primary function of keeping wheels aligned during a turn but only when necessary. During tests of the line over the past two weeks, the train has been touching the restraining rail every time, which adds wear and tear to the wheel hub assembly.

When asked whether there is a problem with the design of the tracks themselves, Amilcar said the issue is more likely related to maintenance.

“We don’t know yet and we will know better but definitely it’s a maintenance issue because at the beginning the rail and the restraining rail were okay, so why now do we have this gap?” she replied. “We will need to understand this part and Atkins will probably help us, but definitely, this is something—the quality of the rail … could be on the table but we will continue to work with Alstom to see what is it exactly.”

Ottawa’s nearly four-year-old LRT system has been out of service since July 17, when OC Transpo abruptly shut down service after an axle-bearing issue was discovered on one train during a routine inspection. Amilcar’s memo on Monday said an analysis of the wheel hub assembly that was sent to France for inspection has confirmed that the degradation of the wheel hub is similar to what was found on the hub assemblies in the August 2021 derailment and the July 2022 wheel hub failure.

“This reinforces Alstom’s conclusion that the final fix to the bearing issue is the redesign of the wheel hub assembly, which is now underway,” Amilcar wrote.

To date, 12 of 45 cars have had their hub assemblies replaced, which must now be done every 60,000 km under a new maintenance regime. 

Single-car service initially expected Monday

OC Transpo had initially promised O-Train service would resume Monday with eight single-car trains, but Amilcar said the return-to-service would be delayed at least 10 more days to complete the infrastructure work.

Amilcar’s memo on Monday said that the 10 days of work can only commence after acceptance of the risk assessment. Discussion of the risk assessment began on Saturday, with no end date determined.

“Throughout the weekend, there’s been a risk assessment being done and some additional planning and evaluation of what needs to be done with the track maintenance work,” Glen Gower, Ottawa’s Transit Commission Chair, told CTV News Ottawa on Sunday.

“We’re heading in the right direction; it’s frustrating that it’s taking so long and hopefully (Monday) we will have a better idea of the timeline to get the trains back up and running.”

Meantime, a new R1 Express shuttle has been launched to speed up trips between Blair Station and the downtown core during the morning and afternoon rush hours.

The R1 Express will run westbound from Blair Station direct to downtown Ottawa, stopping at Mackenzie King Bridge and along Albert Street at Bank and Kent streets, between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.  The R1 Express will run westbound from downtown Ottawa, with stops on Slater Street at Bank and Kent and at Mackenzie King Bridge, to Blair Station between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The new route will be identified as “R1 Lyon Express” and “R1 Blair Express” on the bus display.

Gower says transit riders and east end councillors have been pushing for a direct route.

“What we’re seeing is for people coming in from the east end, that could be an hour or more on the R1. It is quite a long route and there’s some highway closures and lane reductions, so it’s a really difficult stretch,” Gower said.

OC Transpo will continue to operate R1 replacement bus service between Blair and Tunney’s Pasture stations, with 36 buses running during peak periods. An additional 12 buses will operate the R1 Express route during the morning and afternoon peak periods.

Here is what you need to know about R1 service

R1 replacement bus service

R1 replacement bus service continues to run between Blair and Tunney’s Pasture stations while the O-Train is out of service.

In downtown Ottawa, R1 replacement bus service is running along Albert and Slater streets, instead of Queen Street, in a bid to avoid traffic delays.

  • Westbound R1 buses are running on Albert Street, with stops at Bank and Kent 
  • Eastbound R1 buses are running on Slater Street, with stops at Kent and O’Connor 

R1 westbound service will stop at each station between Blair and Tunney’s Pasture, except for Lees Station.

A shuttle bus is operating between Lees, uOttawa and Rideau stations.  Customers travelling to Lees station from the east can connect with the shuttle and eastbound R1 service at uOttawa station.

A shuttle bus is also running between Cyrville and St. Laurent stations to connect customers with R1 bus service.

R1 Express

The new R1 Express service between Blair Station and downtown Ottawa will operate weekday mornings and afternoons.

The new route will be identified as “R1 Lyon Express” and “R1 Blair Express” on the bus display.

Buses will run approximately every 15 minutes, according to OC Transpo.

“R1 Lyon Express”

  • The R1 Lyon Express will run westbound Monday to Friday, from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
  • Bus service will operate from Blair Station to downtown, with stops on the Mackenize King Bridge and on Albert Street at Bank and Kent

The route for OC Transpo’s new R1 Express route from Blair Station to downtown Ottawa. (OC Transpo website)

“R1 Blair Express”

  • The R1 Blair Express will run eastbound Monday to Friday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Bus service will operate from downtown to Blair Station with stops on Slater Street at Bank and Kent and at the Mackenize King Bridge

The route for the new R1 Express service from downtown Ottawa to Blair Station. (OC Transpo website)

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