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Ottawa LRT resumes Monday with a fraction of the fleet on the line and R1 buses still running

Service on Ottawa’s LRT will resume Monday but riders will be on single-car trains to begin with and R1 bus service will continue to run.

Transit Services general manager Renée Amilcar said in a memo Wednesday that a gradual return to service plan will begin July 31.

Here’s what transit riders can expect when service resumes:

  • Eight single-car trains serving all stations on Line 1, approximately every seven to eight minutes
  • R1 bus service will continue to operate in parallel to Line 1 service
  • OC Transpo staff will continue to be at key stations to support customers during their trip
  • The Transit Operations Control Centre will be closely monitoring passenger volumes at stations

“This fleet size in combination with the ongoing R1 bus service will provide the capacity required to meet current customer volumes. This temporary single-car train configuration enables OC Transpo and RTG to manage the supply of rail vehicles while meeting the more frequent inspection and replacement regime in order to ensure the sustainable delivery of service,” Amilcar wrote. “OC Transpo and Rideau Transit Group (RTG) conducted a risk assessment and confirmed that since the system was originally designed to accommodate both single and double-car train operations, there are no additional risks to customer safety at station platforms.”

As part of the return to service plan, Amilcar said in Wednesday’s memo that a new inspection regime will begin, continuing with all mitigation measures that are already in place, and adding the replacement of leading and trailing wheel hub assemblies and axles on trains every 60,000 kilometres, and a new inspection regime for middle bogies on each train car. Previously, this was done every 175,000 kilometres. 

Rideau Transit Maintenance general manager Enrique Martinez said they expect to have 10 trains ready by Monday, eight single cars to run on the line and two spares. The remaining 35 light rail vehicles will have their wheel hub assemblies and axles replaced as soon as possible.

Amilcar said measures would be taken to ensure that the mileage on the vehicles is measured and mitigated to ensure that there isn’t a large number of trains that will be undergoing that 60,000 km axle replacement at the same time. She said it will take each train approximately six months to rack up 60,000 kilometres. 

What will single-car service look like?

Ottawa’s LRT was designed to run with two train cars coupled together, each with the capacity to hold 300 people. Peak service was supposed to have 15 double-car trains on the line. 

This will be the first time that riders will encounter shorter-looking trains at stations because only a single car will be arriving at a time. 

Director of transit service delivery and rail operations Troy Charter told reporters Wednesday that staff will be present at stations and signage will be created to help riders navigate the new single-car configuration.

“We’d also like to hear from our customers when the gradual return to service begins. We appreciate all feedback that will allow us to make adjustments that will help customers navigate the stations and the single-car format of the train system,” he said.

It’s unclear how long the trains will remain decoupled and running as single cars along with the R1 parallel service. Amilcar said this configuration will run for at least all of next week. She added that it’s possible, depending on Alstom’s capacity to replace the wheel hub assemblies on other trains, that more vehicles could be added to the line, but single-car service will likely be the norm for the foreseeable future.

To start, 36 R1 buses will run parallel with the LRT during peak periods, but if more trains are available and ridership patterns favour the trains over the buses, some capacity could be scaled back on R1 to return to regular routes. Keeping the R1 in service in place results in hundreds of trips being cut from other routes around the city every day.

How did we get here?

The LRT was taken offline July 17 after an inspection revealed a problem with one of the axle bearings on one of the trains.

Since then, nearly every light rail vehicle has been inspected. Amilcar said 44 of the 45 trains in the fleet have undergone an inspection to see if the same issue could be found. Of those, one is currently in Kingston and will be inspected at a later date, and six are undergoing further inspections.

Director of engineering services Richard Holder said inspections revealed those six trains were slightly over tolerance when subjected to a pry-bar test.

“We have a threshold for measuring the amount of play within the hub … In five of the cases, each vehicle had one hub and in one of the cases a vehicle had two hubs, so seven hubs in total where the tolerance was exceeded by one thousandth of an inch, so by a very small amount,” Holder said. “So that was the nature of the further investigation, just to check how far above the minimum tolerance was in its current state.”

Amilcar said the threshold is very conservative, but because such a major investigation into the system is being undertaken, she wanted to be sure these six vehicles were safe.

“It’s really out of an abundance of caution here. This is normal on a business normal day, but because of what happened… we don’t want to take any risk,” she said.

“We don’t want to take any chance with those six vehicles; however, it’s normal but because we are conducting this huge investigation, it’s time to have deep dive on everything and we don’t want to have any risk.”

Tests are still being conducted on the Confederation Line, including an instrumented bogie test using a wheel hub assembly that Rideau Transit Maintenance general manager Enrique Martinez said would be at the ‘first stage of failure.’

“The failure process is long. It needs a lot of kilometres to conduct a bearing up to the final failure of the system,” he said. “The processes we have in place at this moment or focused on identifying the first stage of the failure.”

He explained that the tests that will be undertaken would provide data to aid in identifying if or when a bearing might be starting to fail so that it can be inspected before it becomes a critical problem.

“That will give us two pieces of information: how the bearing behaves when it starts the failure process and how we can identify this with some kind of instrument,” he said.

Martinez said there is no risk to the system during these tests.

“We are extremely conservative during these tests. The risk is absolutely close to zero. We have measures in place to ensure we have no possibility of having any kind of issue,” he said.

“We have an engineer on board of the train that is permanently monitoring the behaviour of the bearing. In case any of the parameters are out of the norm… we stop the train and bring it back to the (maintenance and storage facility).”

Dismantling and analysis of the axle hub that prompted the shutdown is underway in France, with a report expected on Friday.

Adjustments of restraining rails on parts of the line is scheduled to be completed by Sunday ahead of Monday’s return to service.

The city has promised media briefings at 4 p.m. every day this week. 

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