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Half-trains to run on Ottawa's LRT indefinitely with bus support

OC Transpo says it expects to continue to run single-car trains on the O-Train Line 1 this fall, but shuttle buses connecting the east and west ends of the line with downtown will continue to run.

End-to-end service resumed Monday with single-car trains four weeks after the line was shut down in the middle of the afternoon because of an axle bearing issue that was discovered during a routine inspection.

In a memo to city council, Transit Services General Manager Renée Amilcar says single-car service will continue after OC Transpo's fall schedule comes into effect Aug. 27, but OC Transpo is keeping and expanding the popular R1 Express.

"OC Transpo has listened to and heard the positive feedback from customers on R1 Express bus service and is responding. Beginning on Tuesday, August 15, a new service called Shuttle Express will be introduced," Amilcar wrote. "The Shuttle Express will operate in the morning peak period from Blair Station to downtown and from Tunney’s Pasture to downtown. In the afternoon peak period, the shuttle will run from downtown to Blair and Tunney’s Pasture. This service will be in addition to Line 1 service and will offer our customers an additional travel option during the busiest commuting times."

The Shuttle Express service will run every 10 minutes on weekdays from Blair and Tunney's Pasture to Mackenzie King Bridge and stops on Albert and Slater streets from 6:30 to 9 a.m. and from downtown stops to Blair and Tunney's Pasture from 3 to 6 p.m.

The system was originally supposed to have 15 double-car trains running during peak periods, with supporting buses only required in the event of a service interruption.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Amilcar said she expects the shuttle service to continue until the end of the year. She says between 7 and 10 buses total will be dedicated to the service. 

Director of Transit Service Delivery and Rail Operations Troy Charter says the express shuttle will be slightly faster than the train for east-end customers, based on traffic volumes. He expects bus riders would save about five minutes compared to the train. The west end shuttle didn't run during the shutdown, so there isn't any data on how fast it might be. Charter said he expects the train would be faster for customers coming from Tunney's Pasture to downtown, but the shuttle will still give people the option to skip a few stops.

Starting Aug. 27, Line 1 will run with 13 single-car trains operating every four minutes during peak periods and 11 single-car trains every five minutes the rest of the day and on weekends. 

Until Aug. 27, here is what service will look like:

  • Weekday morning peak period: 11 single-car trains will provide service at stations every five minutes
  • Weekday afternoon peak period: 13 single-car trains will provide service at stations every four minutes
  • Weekday non-peak periods and evenings: Nine single-car trains providing service at stations every six minutes
  • Weekend service: Nine single-car trains providing service every six minutes

Amilcar said the single-car train service coupled with the "Shuttle Express" buses will accomodate expected ridership levels. The option to return to double-car service is available if ridership requires it.

The O-Train was abruptly shut down during the afternoon commute on July 17 after the bearing issue was found during a routine inspection. Since then, Rideau Transit Group inspected all 44 light-rail vehicles, adjusted the restraining rails at eight locations between Tunney's Pasture and Blair stations and began work to replace the front and trailing wheel hub assemblies on all vehicles entering service.

"OC Transpo, together with Transportation Resource Associates (TRA), have conducted a final review of RTG’s documentation to confirm that the requirements for the restart of full Line 1 service have been met," Amilcar said Sunday evening.

"These documents have been provided to the Interim City Manager, with a recommendation to resume service. The City Manager is satisfied that the regulatory regime is in compliance, and has agreed with the recommendation to resume service on August 14, at 5 a.m."

A full report on the axle bearing root cause analysis will be presented to the city's transit commission on Oct. 12.

"This report will be published in early October and will include technical reports including research results from the National Research Council and Transportation Safety Board. At this meeting, we will also provide an update on issues related to freezing rain and lightning strikes," Amilcar says.

Some transit riders are happy the trains will be back in service.

"It's about time," Morgan Kelly said. "I live downtown and commute to Place d'Orleans for work so it's a pretty lengthy route for me. There's been a lot of last-minute Ubering."

Transport Action Canada says OC Transpo running single-car service should provide enough capacity for August passenger loads.

"If they're only running half at normal capacity, the maintenance only has to be done half as often because each train is only doing half as many kilometres in a period of several months," David Jeanes said Sunday.

Rebuilding trust will take time: Mayor

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe says he understands it will take time for customers to trust the LRT again after this latest nearly month-long closure.

"Trust comes from the behaviour that customers and Ottawa residents will witness," he said. "While they've been frustrated by the lack of service, they're encouraged by the transparency that's going on… I think they've been encouraged that we are finally working on the permanent solutions. Trust will come when people see the trains running safely and reliably over a period of time and when they learn more information about the permanent solutions that are coming."

Over the last four weeks, transit officials have repeatedly discussed a plan to redesign the wheel hub assemblies on the Alstom trains running on the line. The redesign and testing process is expected to take 12 to 18 months, followed by another 12 to 18 months to retrofit every Line 1 vehicle.

Amilcar said OC Transpo is working on being more proactive when dealing with issues on the Confederation Line, which will be entering its fifth year of service this September.

"We will have other issues with the train. It's like that all around the world," she said. "With the bearing problem, the issue we have now… the final fix is coming. Alstom is working on a redesign and we will continue to work with RTG to put in place the top of line lubrication, so we will definitely correct this problem permanently."

Top of line lubrication is a plan to put a slippery product on the top of the rails each time a train passes over it, to reduce friction and wear and tear on the wheels and axles. This system will be placed on curves and is expected by the end of the year.

"We will always, always put safety first," Amilcar said. 

Here's what you need to know about the return of O-Train service going forward.

O-Train service

OC Transpo will provide single-car service on the LRT line for the foreseeable future.

From Aug. 14 to 26:

  • Weekday morning peak period: 11 single-car trains will provide service at stations every five minutes
  • Weekday afternoon peak period: 13 single-car trains will provide service at stations every four minutes
  • Weekday non-peak periods and evenings: Nine single-car trains providing service at stations every six minutes
  • Weekend service: Nine single-car trains providing service every six minutes

Starting Aug. 27:

  • Weekday peak periods: 13 single-car trains will provide service at stations every four minutes
  • Weekday non-peak periods and evenings: 11 single-car trains providing service at stations every five minutes
  • Weekend service: 11 single-car trains providing service every five minutes

Where to stand

OC Transpo says customers will want to wait at the front of the platform at each station to board the O-Train.

With OC Transpo running single-car service, the trains will not occupy the entire platform.

Orange decals have been installed on the platform to outline where the train will stop and where customers can board each LRT vehicle.

The sign directing customers where to board the train will say, "Boarding Zone."

Decals have been installed on O-Train platforms to direct passengers where to board LRT vehicles. (OC Transpo/release)

Speed of the trains

Transit riders may notice trains travelling at slower speeds in the tunnel during the return-to-service this week.

OC Transpo says there is a "speed reduction as part of the safety requirements" for service to resume.

R1 replacement bus service

OC Transpo will continue to run R1 replacement bus service on Monday between Blair and Tunney's Pasture stations. Starting Tuesday, OC Transpo will run "Shuttle Express" buses between Tunney's Pasture Station and downtown Ottawa and between Blair Station and downtown Ottawa.

R1 Express

The R1 Express service between Blair Station and downtown Ottawa will operate on Monday.

The route is identified as "R1 Lyon Express" and "R1 Blair Express" on the bus display. Buses will run approximately every 15 minutes, according to OC Transpo.

"R1 Lyon Express"

The R1 Lyon Express will run westbound from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Bus service will operate from Blair Station to downtown, with stops on the Mackenize King Bridge and on Albert Street at Bank and Kent

"R1 Blair Express"

The R1 Blair Express will run eastbound from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday.

Bus service will operate from downtown to Blair Station with stops on Slater Street at Bank and Kent and at the Mackenize King Bridge.

Shuttle Express

Starting Tuesday, Shuttle Express will run every 10 minutes and will operate on:

Monday to Friday from 6:30 to 9 .a.m.:

  • Blair Station to downtown with service on Mackenzie King Bridge and on Albert Street
  • Tunney’s Pasture to downtown with service on Slater Street and Mackenzie King Bridge

Monday to Friday from 3 to 6 p.m.:

  • Downtown to Blair Station with service on Slater Street and Mackenzie King Bridge
  • Downtown to Tunney’s Pasture Station with service on Mackenzie King Bridge and on Albert Street

R1 Para service

The same-day booking R1 Para Transpo service that was offered during the shutdown will be coming to an end, with no immediate plans to bring it back, Amilcar said.

Charter said fewer than 10 people accessed it while it was available.

But Amilcar added that same-day booking is in high demand and OC Transpo is working on it.

"That will take a little bit of time because that will take a lot of money. I'm not saying we won't do anything because I know it is important for them and they've said that so many times," she said. "We will see what we can do. I want to hear and see how we can better work together to see what we can do."

Amilcar noted that Line 1 is fully accessible. Top Stories

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