OTTAWA -- Improperly torqued bolts caused the derailment that has shut Ottawa’s LRT system down for more than a month, the city’s transit commission heard Wednesday.

The new information shows it was a maintenance problem that led to the Sept. 19 derailment near Tremblay Station, rather than a technical or design issue.

And it led some transit commissioners to question why such a seemingly small mistake could shut down the entire Confederation Line for several weeks.

Improperly torqued bolt caused gearbox to drop

The investigation into the root cause of the Sept. 19 derailment, which damaged the train and several hundred metres of track, continues.

But LRT contractor Rideau Transit Group and train manufacturer Alstom have confirmed that improperly torqued bolts on the gearbox were the primary cause of the derailment.

The gearbox, a heavy piece of equipment that requires machinery to lift, dropped down and damaged the rail and track.

Gearbox

The vehicle involved was one of the 10 that underwent axle repairs after an Aug. 8 derailment near Tunney’s Pasture, although it was not the one that derailed that day.

The Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the Sept. 19 derailment.

Bolt problem could be indicative of other issues: TRA

The revelation led citizen transit commissioner Michael Olsen to ask why such a problem would lead to a system-wide shutdown.

“It just seems like a very minute problem to actually shut down the entire LRT for six to eight weeks,” he said.

The top official at TRA Inc., the company the city brought in to conduct an independent safety review of the system, said the proper torquing of bolts has been an issue on other systems. And while it may not have led to a system-wide shutdown elsewhere, it can often indicate the presence of other problems.

“If a bolt is improperly torqued, it leads us and other professionals to believe…what else is going on?” TRA CEO Kenneth Korach said.

“Are there other concerns relative to the training of people, relative to quality of procedures, policies, quality assurance, quality control that goes on that would allow that to occur?

“It’s a big deal. It’s a big issue.”

Olsen then pointed out it would have been someone’s job to torque the bolts and make sure they had been torqued properly.

“But that was not done in this case?” he asked Rideau Transit Group CEO Mario Guerra.

“In this particular case, no it was not,” Guerra said.

Alstom to bring in ‘fresh, qualified resources’

Train manufacturer Alstom has a four-point plan to correct the issues in the system, including a plan to ‘uplift competencies of the leadership and supervision teams’ and ‘strive to regain a professional and productive work environment by injecting fresh, qualified resources.’

That left an incredulous Coun. Catherine McKenney asking why such resources weren’t here before.

"Now, after two years of constant dysfunction? Now, after we’ve shut down the system numerous times and had to run R1 service? After paying you 2.1 billion dollars for a system that does not function. Now after two derailments, the second one that could have been absolutely catastrophic. Now you’re going to bring in fresh and qualified resources?”

RTG said Alstom is boosting its workforce in Ottawa by up to 70 per cent, with some legacy Bombardier workers included. Guerra told reporters following the meeting that this surge in workers would be temporary, as they are coming from other parts of Ontario.

"A lot of those resources have been pulled from other projects that Alstom has, so they're being considered as temporary to ensure that we get the vehicles back in service and inspected, but we are reviewing the workforce allotment and the need for more resources in the long-term," he said.

Nov. 1 return ‘may be achieved’

The light rail system could be back up and running by the beginning of next month, but Ottawa’s city manager suggests it’s unlikely.

“It may be achieved; we’re not sure at this point,” Steve Kanellakos told transit commission on Wednesday regarding Rideau Transit Group’s proposed return-to service date.

“A lot of things have to go right for service, or some sort of service, to come back by Nov. 1. “We think a more likely scenario is that it’ll be sometime in the first two weeks of November when we can have seven trains and a spare operating.”

Guerra maintained that RTG can have vehicles ready for a partial return to service by the beginning of November.

“Our commitment is that we will have sufficient vehicles ready for testing purposes by  Nov. 1,” he said.

Kanellakos reiterated trains will not run again until TRA completes its independent safety probe and the city signs off.

He also promised TRA would hold a public technical briefing about its findings before train service resumes.

Speaking to reporters following the transit commission meeting, Guerra said the process to inspect each vehicle and prepare it for service began only recently.

"In order to get to the point where we are now, there was obviously the root cause and there was a hazard analysis and a risk assessment done to make sure we were targeting the right critical components. Once that was done, our subcontractor (Alstom) came up with an inspection process on what they believe are all the critical components that need to be inspected to ensure they're all torqued properly," he said.

Guerra says the first few cars have been done, but it's a lengthy process.

"The whole process, per vehicle, the inspection process can take 24 hours and then time after that to be able to address any issues that are brought up," he explained. "We'll probably get better at it as we do it, but right now it's taking about 24 hours."