Still no timeline for improving LRT service
A train approaches the platform at Hurdman Station along the Confederation Line of Ottawa's LRT system. (CTV News Ottawa)
OTTAWA -- Ottawa's problem-plagued LRT line continues to have problems and it is still unknown when service will reach an acceptable level.
That's the conclusion of city staff, who had asked for an updated plan from the consortium that built and now maintains the 12.5 km, $2.1 billion Confederation Line.
In early March, the City of Ottawa issued a notice of default under the project agreement to the Rideau Transit Group for unsatisfactory service since the launch of the line in mid-September of 2019. The system had issues with doors on the trains, train control software, ice and snow buildup, arcing on the overhead power lines, brake faults, and other issues that caused frequent delays for customers in the fall and into the dead of winter.
RTG was given until March 31 to respond to the notice of default with a plan to fix the problems, which they did, but the City said the plan wasn't good enough and gave RTG until April 24 to fix the problems with the plan to fix the problems on the LRT.
The plan delivered April 24 also had issues, according to Director of Rail Construction, Michael Morgan.
"The revision to the plan provided some additional detail," Morgan said. "The one thing the plan didn't do was declare a timeline for when performance would improve. They did provide timelines for each of the individual items, which was helpful in terms of understanding their approach, but they didn't declare an overall date for performance improvement."
Key fixes may not be ready until end of year
There are seven elements RTG is prioritizing in its plan to improve the system: vehicle brakes, the overhead power system, switch heater failures, vehicle traction power, doors, vehicle auxiliary power, and vehicle HVAC systems.
Morgan said RTG expects to complete some of these tasks by the summer, but other issues may not be fixed until the end of the year.
"That's not acceptable in terms of improving performance," he said. "We need a system that's running at its full capacity this summer. We can't wait until the end of the year and we certainly can't wait until next winter."
Morgan said RTG's plan was heavily qualified by impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, including disruptions to European supply chains. The Citadis Spirit trains used on the line were built by Alstom, which is based in France.
While peak operating service was reduced to nine trains because of lower ridership during the pandemic—freeing up additional trains for maintenance—RTG itself was also affected by the pandemic.
Morgan did say, however, that the City has accepted two of the 38 vehicles slated for service in Stage 2, and they have been added to the pool of available vehicles for Stage 1, bringing the total number of available vehicles to 36 from 34. The goal is to get service up to 15 double-vehicles, or 30 train cars, during peak periods by the end of the summer.
More line shutdowns to come
Wednesday was the final day of a planned, five-day shut down of the LRT for extended maintenance. There was also a two-day closure of the line on May 2 and 3.
Morgan said the shut down enabled RTG to perform additional maintenance on the vehicles and the tracks, clean the road salt and other dirt off of the overhead power system, and test new train control software.
The new software still needs further testing and has yet to be installed.
Morgan said the City will review the work that was accomplished during the five-day shut down and said that additional weekend closures of the LRT system may be necessary in order to accelerate fixes to the system.
"We're really working hard with RTG to understand when the service will improve," Morgan said. "Again, they haven't declared a specific date for when the service will improve. We're working with them on that, but that's clearly a flaw in the plan as it relates to the contract. We need them to bring forward things as much as possible. We're pressing them to have everything finished by the end of the summer."
Additional updates will be provided to City Council in June.