‘Not the level of service our customers are expecting’: Apologies once again offered after latest LRT issue


LRT maintenance workers are double-checking parts of the overhead catenary system along the 12.5-kilometre transit system after Thursday’s wire break near St. Laurent Station.

It wasn’t a good day for OC Transpo or Rideau Transit Maintenance, the affiliate of the Rideau Transit Group contracted to maintain and repair the $2.1-billion rail system.

First the overhead wire snapped around 10:50 a.m., stopping an eastbound train and shutting down the LRT line east of Hurdman Station in both directions. The outage lasted for the rest of the day. Transpo redirected 70 buses to run replacement transit service between Hurdman and Blair stations.


Diagrams at the LRT press conference, January 17, 2020. This shows the OCS cable structure that failed in yesterday’s issue.

Jean Levac /

Postmedia News

There were backups at Hurdman Station during the afternoon commute as people were forced to get off trains and transfer to the R1 replacement bus service. Then, a group of customers were stuck in an elevator at the station for more than a half hour before they were freed by staff.

Regular LRT service returned Friday morning.

Transit officials were back at the microphones Friday morning explaining what happened, this time with Mayor Jim Watson and transit commission chair Allan Hubley.

Everyone was once again apologizing for a problem on the LRT system.


Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson at the LRT press conference, January 17, 2020. Photo by Jean Levac/Postmedia

Jean Levac /

Postmedia News

“I want to sincerely apologize,” Watson said at Transpo headquarters on St. Laurent Boulevard. “This is not the level of service that our customers are expecting and it’s certainly not the level of service that we want to be offering to those men, women and children who rely on OC Transpo.”

The exact cause of the broken wire was still under examination, but officials have been focusing on a connection of two kinds of overhead infrastructure that powers the trains. The train-top pantograph, which is the device that connects the train to the power cables, snagged on the overhead infrastructure.

The overhead power cables change from hanging, like in open-air stations and stretches in between stations outside of the tunnel, to a fixed system on the ceiling inside the tunnels.

Power automatically was cut to the broken wire when it broke.

The damage included bent support bars, marred power insulators and a portion of the overhead wire-support structure affixed to the ceiling of the St. Laurent tunnel. Eighty metres of overhead wire fell.

RTM and Transpo notched a bit of a win by finishing the repairs in time for service launch Friday morning. There was little optimism that the catenary system could be fixed by 5 a.m., but workers toiled through the night to remove and replace the damaged infrastructure before testing train movements.

Peter Lauch, the CEO of RTM, explained in detail how the repairs were done.

After workers cut the damaged wire from the train, they moved the train east to Blair Station and then back the other way to the maintenance and storage facility on Belfast Road to be inspected and repaired. Other workers at the facility were putting together replacement pieces for the damaged infrastructure near St. Laurent Station. Workers at the St. Laurent tunnel removed about 35 metres of damaged overhead power infrastructure. Once the supporting infrastructure was in place, workers fixed the overhead wire and tested the repairs with low-speed trains.

Lauch said workers are checking the connection points between the hanging wire and fixed-support infrastructure to make sure they won’t cause similar problems.

It’s the first time an overhead wire broke on the LRT system. Officials said that kind of problem can happen and they agreed it’s serious.

Watson said he believes the LRT system overall is “working well” but he added that there are too many times when problems are impacting many customers negatively.

“I wish I could guarantee the people of Ottawa that there will never be a mechanical issue on the system. I can’t do that in all honesty,” Watson said.

“But what we can do is strive to do better and to ensure that fewer and fewer of our passengers are put in a very untenable, uncomfortable, frustrating situation as they found themselves in (Thursday).”

jwilling@postmedia.com

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