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OC Transpo looking at options to compensate transit riders during O-Train shutdown


The head of OC Transpo is preparing a report on how to pay for possible compensation for transit riders for the multi-week shutdown of the O-Train, as preparations continue for the full resumption of service on Monday.

The O-Train was initially closed on July 17 after an issue was discovered with the axle-bearing on one train during routine inspection. Partial O-Train service is currently running between Tunney's Pasture and uOttawa stations, with full service between Tunney's Pasture and Blair stations starting on Monday.

Some councillors, community groups and transit riders have called on OC Transpo to provide a refund on transit fares or a free month of service to compensate riders for the disruptions on the transit system this summer. Transit Services general manager Renee Amilcar and interim City Manager Wendy Stephanson are preparing a report on the costs associated with the O-Train shutdown and looking at options for possible compensation for riders and how to pay for it.

"I'm gathering data about what is the cost to continue to deliver the service without the LRT; we have shuttles, we have Para buses, we have regular R1 service, etc., a lot of people with red vests. When RTG doesn't deliver the service, I don't pay RTG but I need to be able to balance my budget," Amilcar said.

"I'll propose something to chair (Coun. Glen) Gower and I work with my team to see what we can do.  I will try to think outside the box to find, maybe, a potential solution.

"However, I just want to say it again, I still need $39 million to close the gap this year. I don't have a lot of money, but we will find something and it will be council's decision."

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe says discussions on possible compensation for transit riders will be held in September.

"All options are open and we are going to have a meaningful conversation about it," Sutcliffe said. "We are not in a position to make a decision about that in the next couple of weeks."

Sutcliffe says the one issue facing the city of Ottawa is the $39 million budget deficit for OC Transpo.

"Let's be clear about the financial limitations here. We can't just print money to provide a discount or free service to our customers. Whatever it costs us to provide free service or any compensation to our customers will have to come from somewhere," Sutcliffe said.

"We will either have to increase taxes or cut spending in some other area in order to achieve that. That's not ruling it out; we're going to have a fulsome discussion about it.

"We're talking about compensating taxpayers with their own money; the money will have to come from somewhere."

According to OC Transpo data, fare revenue is projected to range from $13 million to $15 million a month in the September to December period. 

Councillors had a chance to ask OC Transpo and Rideau Transit Group questions about the LRT system on Wednesday, the first public session since the shutdown 24 days ago.

Single-car trains will be running every five minutes between Tunney's Pasture and uOttawa stations. LRT service remains shut down in the east end from uOttawa to Blair.

O-Train service resumed this week with five single-car trains running in the west end of the line.

Amilcar says service plans continue to be finalized, but "it is anticipated" that single-car trains will operate for the month of August.

There will be 11 single-car trains during the morning peak period and 13 single-car trains running in the afternoon peak. During off-peak periods, nine single-car trains will operate on the 12.5 km line.

"This will accommodate current customer demand during the busiest times, without the need for R1 bus service, and allow OC Transpo to sustainably manage fleet availability over the long term," Amilcar said in a memo.

The final step to finalizing the Safety Note from Rideau Transit Group and Alstom to run LRT service is the repositioning of the restraining rail at eight locations along the LRT line.

"Since August 3, RTG completed adjustments to the restraining rails between Tunney’s Pasture and uOttawa stations," Amilcar said.

"This allowed partial Line 1 service to safely resume today in this section of the line. Work on the remaining restraining rails continues across the rest of the alignment," Amilcar said.

As of Wednesday, 12 of the 16 restraining rails at 8 locations have been repositioned.

Rideau Transit Group continues to also replace the wheel hub assemblies on the train fleet. As of Tuesday, the wheel hub assemblies have been replaced on 24 trains.

European vehicle with a North American track

As OC Transpo and Rideau Transit Group adjust the restraining rails to avoid contact with the wheel hubs on LRT vehicles, Amilcar says it may be an issue with a European vehicle running on a system designed by experts for North American systems.

"It's common in America to have restraining rail….so normally, the vehicles that will use those kinds of tracks with restraining rails will be built, and it's common to have contact in America," Amilcar said Wednesday.

"However, in Europe that's not the case. Maybe that is why, we think, European vehicle with a track designed by experts from USA, maybe that's why we have the conflict with the wheel and the restraining rail."

Amilcar says Alstom has requested changes to prevent contact between the restraining rail and the wheel hub.

Christopher Wallgren of TRA says it is not uncommon to run into unexpected issues with European-built vehicles in North America.

"One of the things that we do see when we bring rail vehicles over from Europe to North America is that there are operational differences here and engineering differences that are required on vehicles for the types of operation we run," Wallgren said.

"In the case of the restraining rails at OC Transpo, we do incorporate those into a lot of designs in North America as an extra layer of safety."

Nicolas Truchon of Rideau Transit Group says there was no contact between the wheel hub and the restraining rail during testing in 2019.

"As the system evolves and the track settles, we see the gauge on the distance between the two rails moving within the tolerance," Truchon said.

Truchon says "contact is not necessary" between the restraining rail and the wheel hub with the O-Train system, and they will "eliminate" the contract to improve the "resilience of the cartridge."

OC Transpo boss apologizes 

Amilcar kicked off her presentation to council with an apology to councillors for the current state of the O-Train system.

"I'm not proud of this situation that brings a negative spotlight on our beautiful city," Amilcar said Wednesday afternoon.

"Despite that, you should be confident that we have put safety first as safety is paramount."

Amilcar told councillors, "I came here to fix Ottawa's light-rail transit system."

O-Train will "continue to have challenges"

Amilcar admits Ottawa will "continue to have challenges" with the light-rail transit system, even after the so-called permanent fix for the bearing issue with the redesign of the wheel hub assembly is implemented over the next two to three years.

During Wednesday's session with councillors, Coun. Riley Brockington asked about the "other challenges" with the LRT system, including the overhead catenary system.

"I cannot say that we will never have any problems with the LRT, because around the world we have problems with LRT, with buses, etc." Amilcar said.

"However, what I have said for this particular problem with the bearing that was the cause of the derailment in 2021, I have said so many times we are working on the symptoms but now we can work on the disease. That permanent fix will resolve the problem.

"So definitely, yes, we will have other issues, and what I have said as well is I want to be bold here at OC Transpo to respond quickly to those issues, to make sure that we can continue to augment customers' experience."

Amilcar adds OC Transpo and Rideau Transit Group will continue to "learn from the past."

"It was a lot of learning; we have a lot of opportunity to learn during this problem and we continue to listen to our customers, to hear them, and to make sure that we can improve the service."

The Transit Commission will receive a report in October outlining the root cause analysis for the bearing issue and a report outlining the LRT incidents related to freezing rain, lightning strikes and other issues.

"Traffic will come back"

Passenger traffic was reported to be light on the LRT system and R1 buses on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

Amilcar is confident riders will return to the service as the system improves.

"The traffic will come back; traffic is a little bit slow this week," Amilcar said, adding the train is "safe."

"Please come back and try us; give us, again, a chance." Top Stories

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