OTTAWA -- The record-low service on Ottawa’s five-month-old Confederation Line continued Thursday afternoon, with just six trains available at times during the peak hours. 

Seven trains were running for the afternoon peak.

Maintenance issues both Wednesday and Thursday reduced the fleet and forced customers to walk on the tracks more than once.

There were four issues with trains in an 18-hour period Wednesday and Thursday, along with an issue with the overhead power system near St. Laurent station.

Video from Kebrija Leeks-Kottick showed customers exiting a parked train on Wednesday, walking across the tracks and boarding another train.

OC Transpo’s Troy Charter confirmed there were three instances in the past 24 hours where customers were forced to get off a stopped train near a station and walk into the station or board another train.

Line hits record low number of trains

Only six trains were operating at one point Thursday morning, the lowest number of trains available for service since the system opened in September.

Eight trains were expected to be available for the afternoon commute, but the City later said only six were ready for the start of the peak period at 3 p.m. A seventh train was launched by about 3:15 p.m.

Rideau Transit Group had provided nine trains for the Thursday morning commute, but two trains were immobilized due to power issues.

On Wednesday, a power issue with a train at uOttawa station and a door issue with a train at Bayview station required trains to be taken out of service.

Charter told reporters that due to the vehicle issues on Wednesday and an overnight power issue at the maintenance storage facility, “vehicle availability was challenged” on Thursday.

Rideau Transit Group’s Peter Lauch explained the lack of vehicle availability, saying the issues Wednesday and Thursday eliminated four trains from service.

“There were a couple of vehicles in for heavy maintenance, and there were some other issues as well.”

The maintenance included putting covers on the inductors of the trains and one train was undergoing normal maintenance after 100,000 kilometres of service.

Lauch said the vehicle that stopped near St. Laurent Station on Wednesday due to an issue with a piece of the overhead power system also had to be checked out before returning to service.

Overhead power system problems

Rideau Transit Group says it’s investigating the issue with the overhead power system at St. Laurent station on Wednesday.

Charter says an operator noticed damage to a component of an overhead catenary system and stopped the train.

The overhead catenary system is supported by a series of cantilever arms and cables. Charter says one of the cables that holds the cantilever arms broke. 

The overhead catenary system was fixed and service was restored between Hurdman and Blair stations at 12:30 a.m.

Lauch says it looks like there was some corrosion on the part, and it will be sent to a lab for an investigation.

Rideau Transit Group insists the issue with the overhead catenary system was not weather related.

All eyes on Alstom

Transit Commission Chair Allan Hubley told CFRA’s Morning Rush with Bill Carroll it was time to “look at what can we do to bring in another company to do the job that RTM clearly can’t do.”

Transportation Services General Manager John Manconi says the City of Ottawa’s contract is with Rideau Transit Group, and the company must “hold Alstom accountable and deliver the performance of the system that was specified in the contract.”

Alstom built the 17 trains for the Confederation Line.

“What the city is doing, and will continue to do and is going to do more, is to hold RTG accountable to the service our customers deserve,” Manconi said.

Lauch says “our focus right now is on safety and service,” adding RTG is working around the clock to address the issues.

When asked if RTG could replace the Alstom trains, Lauch said “we have an obligation under the project agreement to provide service. We think we can provide service with these vehicles. They will be, and they are, good vehicles.”

Lauch says the modifications put in place have addressed some of the issues with the Confederation Line.

Fragile transit system

Director of transit customer systems and planning Pat Scrimgeour told reporters OC Transpo will boost service to support the Confederation Line and transport customers.

“The service will be fragile, and if there are short delays there may be cases where some customers may need to wait for the next train or next bus,” Scrimgeour said Thursday.

OC Transpo is extending S1 supplemental bus service throughout the day and evening matching the rail service hours.

The S1 Supplemental Service will run from downtown to Tunney’s Pasture, Hurdman and Blair stations during the afternoon peak.

In addition to the S1 supplemental service, OC Transpo will be running a number of buses to augment rail service from Tunney’s Pasture to Blair Station, serving all stations.”