It feels like the LRT is on a downward spiral. Illustration: Hailey Otten/Fulcrum
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Two years after the official unveiling of the Light Rail Transit, issues for the public feel unresolved

On Sep. 19, another derailment of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) O-Train occurred, suspending its service indefinitely. Busses were replacing the LRT from Tunney’s Pasture to Blair stations. Unlike the case on Aug. 8, the recent derailment was stated to be due to a sanding device on the underside of the train that was meant to cut down ice and add traction during winter days.

Aug. 8 was the first derailment of this latest bout of issues for Ottawa’s LRT. An O-Train crossing from track 1 to track 2 at Tunney’s Pasture went off the tracks. A week-long shutdown of the LRT followed. It was later reported in a memorandum by John Manconi, the city’s general manager of transportation, that it was a problem with an axle bearing

A day after that incident, 19 double-decker busses were removed for investigation following one of the busses ending in a ditch due to a steering issue. Thankfully, civilians were unharmed from the recent problems with the transit system, but it begged many unanswered questions while more investigations continued to identify the root causes.

The LRT’s imperative history provides insight on its future directions.  

“The Light Rail Transit system is the greatest and biggest investment in the City of Ottawa’s history and it should be what Ottawans are proud of,” said Diane Deans, the City of Ottawa Councillor for Gloucestor-Southgate Ward.

During the most recent transit commission public meeting on Sept. 20, Rideau Transit Maintenance chief executive Mario Guerra said it could be about three weeks before train service can resume. Early investigations found that the recently derailed train had repairs done on one of its axles, with Guerra predicting it was only in service for about a week.

The previous public meeting of the transit commission was June 6, with Deans’ attempt to request for a special meeting regarding the Aug. 25 derailment rejected by the Transit Commission. 

Due to this, Councillor Diane Deans and Catherine McKenney organized a rally along with the general public on Aug. 25. Councillors Riley Brockington, Carol Anne Meehan, Shawn Menard, Rawlson King, and transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert were also in attendance.

“The rally was to draw attention to the issues of [the] LRT and to put pressure on City Hall to provide public information,” said Councillor Deans.

Councillor Deans strongly believes that the services taxpayers are receiving are not meeting reasonable expectations.

“As a public council using public funds, our expectation is that the businesses are conducted in public.”

Furthermore, she encourages the public to express their concerns — collective action — if the Transit Commission continues to ignore releasing information to the public. 

“The meetings of the transit commissions are publicly available. Students are welcome to sign-up to the committee clerk to the transit commission to [be] present at the transit commission that day. I would encourage students to do that.”

Further investigation on these troubling incidents has taken place, but the root cause has yet to be found. Until such a time as answers are obtained, Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) has implemented inspection procedures that ensure the safe ongoing operation of the trains. It will continue to be conducted until a satisfactory result is reached and safety is certified.

As there are further investigations, RTM has a plan in place of maintaining transportation for the public. The current operational train is made of two cars and the entire fleet is made up of 39 individual train cars.

“Of these 39 cars, two still require inspection. Initial inspections found that nine cars did not meet established thresholds when tested and required repairs. As the components of the axle assembly are replaced on these nine cars, they are put into service and will be subject to the same ongoing inspection requirements as the rest of the fleet,” said Troy Charter, director of transit operations.

On Sept. 5, OC Transpo implemented its ‘Fall Service Change’ to improve and provide more frequent service to post-secondary institutions in Ottawa. Updates on the services will continue to be provided through customer alerts, social media updates, signage at O-Train Line 1 stations and via the website.

Aside from the services that OC Transpo will be providing, implementations had begun to ensure safety for similar situations to not occur again.

“RTM have now begun the process of regular, planned inspections of each rail car to ensure safe operation until the root cause analysis is complete and a final adjustment to address the axle bearing assembly issue is in place. Again, all vehicles that are in service have passed the safety inspection process and will continue to be inspected and monitored at regular intervals to ensure their ongoing safe operation,” said Charter in an interview.

U of O students would like other improvements aside from the safety of the OC Transpo to continue to meet. Most students want free transit (or for it to be more affordable), to have better real-time information or schedule consistencies, and to expand the LRT to more areas. 

“I think that it’s unfortunately not surprising, a good portion of city councillors and the mayor get lots of money from property developers and this is why Ottawa is so car-centric,” said Lewis Wilson, a third-year political science student. 

Lewis says OC Transpo, has had a lot of issues especially with the O-Train, pointing in particular to the SNC Lavalin debacle.

“The train wasn’t designed or tested in the conditions that we face in Ottawa so there’s going to be more issues with it as it ages.” 

Wilson also believes that OC Transpo needs to work towards a free transit system, which will ensure that public transportation is beneficial to everyone, especially lower-income and racialized community members.

Some students believe that the response to the incidents should have been handled a bit differently. 

“In a situation like that, they should send a backup bus and the necessary emergency responses. Especially because people taking the bus need to be somewhere by a certain time,” said Sudipta Verma, a third-year public administration and political science student.

“OC Transpo could try to increase training to ensure safer driving with their employees and to better communicate shutdowns to the public. There’s nothing more annoying than heading to the train station for my morning commute just to find out that it’s closed,” said Megan Wishart, a fourth-year political science student.

In the near future, one hopes that OC Transpo improves its services by providing more support during crises: better response time and the disclosure of public information.