One year of LRT in Ottawa: A timeline of troubles
OTTAWA -- There was a jubilant atmosphere at Tunney's Pasture Station on Sept. 14, 2019.
A crowd gathered at the newly-built LRT station as Mayor Jim Watson and other dignitaries launched the very first train ride on the 12.5 kilometer Confederation Line LRT.
"I'm bursting with a lot of pride and a lot of joy, not just as mayor, but as a citizen of Ottawa," Watson said that day.
However, excitement and pride would soon be replaced by frustration as problem after problem began cropping up right when people needed the service the most.
CTVNewsOttawa.ca takes a look at some of the highlights and lowlights of the past year on the Confederation Line.
Sept. 14, 2019 – The launch party
There was excitement in Ottawa for riders taking their first trip on Ottawa’s new light rail system.
When the train doors closed to take riders for the first time, many cheered.
Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa councillors were also expressing excitement about opening day.
Sept. 17, 2019 – A glitch slows down the ride home
Service on Ottawa's new light rail transit system was briefly delayed during the commute home on its first work day in operation.
Transit commission chair Allan Hubley told CTV News that there was an eight minute delay on the Confederation Line in the late afternoon due to a default code that needed to be reset. The issue was solved and trains began moving at their normal rate again but the minor delay did cause some bus backlogs at stations like Tunney's Pasture.
Oct. 7, 2019 – Parallel bus service ends leading to crowded platforms
LRT platforms were crowded during the Monday morning rush hour commute.
It was the first big test for full LRT service after parallel bus service ended.
OC Transpo adjusted more than 100 routes taking thousands of bus trips out of the downtown core.
Chair of the Transit Commission Allan Hubley said overall, things went well.
"We saw at the peak that it was getting pretty full, but it wasn't over full. There wasn't mass numbers being left behind", Hubley said.
Transportation Manager John Manconi said the system worked. "I was at the peak of the peak this morning here, full platforms..trains would pull up. It would take everybody it needed to take. Trains are busy, but they're not at their full capacity", Manconi said.
Oct. 8, 2019 – Door jam causes chaos
Ottawa's top transit boss apologized to riders after a train door jam at the uOttawa transit station triggered a long service delay after 8 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 8.
John Manconi said, in this case, the train operator and a technician were not able to fix the door jam on site.
As a result, that train was taken out of service, and east- and west-bound trains had to share a track between uOttawa and Hurdman stations. The city said the service detour lead to train delays between 15 to 20 minutes, and major passenger backlog on station platforms like Tunney's Pasture. Some riders told CTV News they waited 40 to 50 minutes to get on a train. Normal service was eventually restored at 9:15 a.m.
Oct. 9, 2019 – Door jams again
A door issue on the brand new Confederation Line slowed down the morning commute for a second straight day.
OC Transpo announced at 8:15 a.m. that "service delays can be expected due to a door fault." 12 minutes later, OC Transpo announced R1 bus service was being rolled out between Tunney's Pasture and Rideau Station. Bus service was cancelled when full LRT service resumed at 9:20 a.m.
Mayor Jim Watson said at the time that the City was considering fines for people who pry open doors. He asked staff to explain why the system appeared to be so fragile.
Oct. 10 – Problems with the computer system
It was a computer malfunction—not a jammed door—which caused a third straight day of LRT chaos on the Confederation Line LRT.
The City of Ottawa's transit boss John Manconi says a train was taken out of service and stuck on the tracks at Bayview Station when the 'Train Control Management System' indicated a problem.
In a memo to City Council released that afternoon, Manconi indicated the computer reset took longer than expected.
Oct. 13, 2019 – LRT reaches 3 million rides
As of Tuesday, October 13th, the transit system reached 3 million rides. Transit Manager John Manconi called it a significant milestone that “underscores the volumes that the Confederation Line system is built to support.”
Nov. 1, 2019 – Watson "furious"
Mayor Jim Watson expressed new frustrations with the performance of the city's new LRT system following more delays on the Confederation Line.
"To say I am furious with the poor performance of our LRT system is an understatement," Watson tweeted. "Both RTG and RTM will be held to account for the problems that have frustrated our very patient transit users."
The mayor's comments came as a door issue and a switch problem on the Confederation LRT line caused delays for some commuters to begin the morning rush hour Nov. 1.
Nov. 4, 2019 – the buses come back
The city’s emergency attempt to fix its failing transit system started the morning of Nov. 4 with the return of some buses that had been retired.
After chronic delays on the Confederation Line, the city brought back 40 buses to help on problem routes, and dipped into its transit reserve account to the tune of $3.5 million.
Nov. 13, 2019 – A weld break on the line
LRT riders reported fresh delays on the morning of Nov. 13 as repairs were needed for a section of rail line at Hurdman station when a break occurred on a weld.
Riders packed the platform on the record-breaking cold morning but were quick to report delays on social media as trains were forced to slow down over the part of the track where the break happened.
The weld break was repaired that night.
Dec. 31, 2019 – Free service disrupted by major delay, blamed on dirt
The Chair of the city’s Transit Commission said a dirt build-up on top of some of the LRT trains caused them to stall New Year’s Eve.
Allan Hubley told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll that Rideau Transit Maintenance was not thorough enough in cleaning the trains, letting dirt gather where the power connects from the line overhead to the train.
According to a City memo, the first train delay happened at 5:02 p.m. at Cyrville Station. The train remained on the line until 6:51 p.m. The second train lost power west of uOttawa Station at 5:53 p.m. and wasn’t hauled away until 11:50 p.m.
Jan. 16, 2020 – A wire falls onto a train leading to longest delay yet.
City officials apologized after an LRT disruption was caused by a broken overhead wire at St. Laurent Station.
Service along the Confederation Line was shut down between Hurdman and Blair Stations on Thursday morning after a wire power line broke and fell onto a train at St. Laurent Station just before 11 a.m. Service wasn't fully restored until Friday morning.
Jan. 18, 2020 – Record snowfall stalls service
The record snowfall that buried the capital on Jan. 18 caused a pair of issues for the city's LRT system.
Director of Transit Operations Troy Charter said the safety sensors at the station designed to confirm no one has entered the tracks can be activated by blowing snow.
Snow also interfered with a track switch at Blair Station.
Jan. 24, 2020 - The British are coming
Outside transit experts were called in to assess the issues with Ottawa’s four-month old Confederation Line.
OC Transpo General Manager John Manconi told the Transit Commission that Rideau Transit Group has hired British firm JBA Corporation to visit Ottawa to look at the issues, and will implement any recommendations from the experts.
Company founder James Boyle told Coun. Carol Anne Meehan a few days later that the problems on the LRT are "absolutely fixable."
Feb. 27, 2020 – Transit chair considers walking away from contract
Councillors and transit riders expressed frustrations after an infrastructure failure halted service between Hurdman and Blair stations for over eight hours on Feb. 26.
OC Transpo General Manager John Manconi said one of the components on the overhead catenary system became loose just east of St. Laurent station.
Speaking on The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll on News Talk 580 CFRA, Transit Commission Chair Allan Hubley suggested the city should look at walking away from the contract.
Feb. 27, 2020 – Record low of six trains running on LRT
Only six trains were operating at one point on Feb. 27, 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.
March 2020 – COVID-19 arrives in Ottawa
The first positive case of COVID-19 was officially confirmed in Ottawa on March 11. Within weeks, the city would go into a strict lockdown to limit the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, which cut transit ridership significantly. OC Transpo estimated some routes saw a 90 per cent drop in ridership.
March 9, 2020 – Notice of default
Ottawa City Council gave the builder of the Confederation Line until the end of the March to come up with a plan to fix the light rail transit system.
The notice of default to the Rideau Transit Group on Tuesday gave the company until March 31 to deliver a plan for fixing a list of problems with the system.
April 8, 2020 – RTG's plan missing specifics
Ottawa’s Director of Rail Operations said the Rideau Transit Group’s plan to fix the issues plaguing the Confederation Line didn't meet the city's requirements and was missing a timeline to fix the issues when it was delivered on March 31.
Michael Morgan told Council that RTG has outlined a number of short-term and long-term solutions to address the issues, but there was no deadline set for when riders will see improvements to the system.
RTG was given until April 24 to revise its plan.
May 2, 2020 – The entire system shuts down
The O-Train Confederation Line shut down completely on Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3 for maintenance and was also offline from Saturday, May 9 to Wednesday, May 13.
This was the first of many lengthy closures of the LRT meant to give RTG time to fix issues on the line.
June 18, 2020 – Heat slows down the system
The Confederation Line ran a little slower due to the heat in June and July.
OC Transpo said significant heat causes some issues with the tracks, requiring trains to slow down slightly in certain stretches. It was defended as an issue that affects all rail lines around the world, including Via Rail.
OC Transpo would later announce heat-related delays regularly, as Ottawa experienced its hottest July in 99 years.
July 10, 2020 – Peter Lauch steps down as CEO of RTG
Peter Lauch, the CEO of the Rideau Transit Group and Rideau Transit Maintenance, the consortium that built and now maintains the LRT, officially stepped down from his role as CEO of both branches of the company.
Nicholas Truchon was named as the new CEO of RTG and Mario Guerra was named as CEO of RTM.
July 10, 2020 – Transportation Safety Board launches investigation into cracked wheels
Canada’s transportation safety watchdog is investigating wheel cracks on Ottawa’s problem-plagued LRT system.
The Transportation Safety Board issued formal notice on July 10 that it would be conducting an investigation after cracks were found on a total of four wheels on three separate Ottawa light rail transit vehicles.
Aug. 7, 2020 – LRT runs with 15 trains for the first time
Nearly one year after launching, the full complement of 15 train cars ran on Ottawa's $2.1 billion Confederation Line LRT on Aug. 7.
It was the first time the LRT had all 15 trains in service during a peak period since the line opened to the public in September 2019. The original plan was to have 15 trains running during the morning and afternoon peaks, with two trains as spares but, shortly before launch, it was decided that only 13 trains would be sufficient.
Where are we now?
We know that the Rideau Transit Group has been paid some of what it was owed for service and maintenance.
The City was holding back monthly maintenance payments since problems began. In a memo in mid-August, Transportation Services General Manager John Manconi said RTG was paid more than $5 million in November for service on the line in September, before the major issues started piling up.
Additional payments for service in the spring and early summer would amount to just over $12 million.
In late August, Director of Transit Operations Troy Charter told CTV Morning Live that progress was being made.
"Most days, we've been having 15 trains for the peak periods that we need," he said. "Over the past couple of weeks, that’s what we've been seeing, so it's good progress."
Charter said work on the track, the overhead power system, and the trains was done during the shutdowns and with the pandemic-induced lower ridership and he believed the LRT was in a much better place heading into September.
"The cracked wheels investigation is ongoing," he said. "The doors, that's something that was addressed with some software, there's still some issues with regards to the vehicles, but everything is progressing and we're seeing incremental improvements in the key areas we highlighted."
Transit Commission meets Wed. Sept. 16.