Fri. Aug 12th, 2022

The $ 2 billion line, a major infrastructure project in Canada’s capital that had been underway for more than a decade, opened just two years ago. It has been plagued by big and small accidents

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The gravel strewn across the bike path was the first sign of trouble.

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Ottawa resident Steven Grant was out driving on Sept. 19 when he noticed an LRT train stopping in the middle of the tracks. Gravel from the bed under the rails had been scattered all over the nearby path.

“The second and third cars in that train set were clearly off the rails,” Grant said in an interview Thursday. “You could see the side panel, that kind of hilly above the wheels, is totally, totally damaged.”

Later investigations revealed that the train was already in derailment status when it left the station with 12 people on board and traveled that way over a railway bridge over a major six-lane roadway before hitting a signal mast and changing heater.

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The driver hit the emergency brake and stopped right on the other side of the bridge.

In any other city, Grant said he would have been surprised to encounter such a sight, but this is Ottawa’s Confederate line, and the derailment was the second in as many months.

The $ 2 billion line, a major infrastructure project in Canada’s capital that had been underway for more than a decade, opened just two years ago. It has been plagued by big and small accidents.

A sinkhole swallowed a major highway in the center during construction. Door stops delayed the line for hours. Wheels developed flat spots. The stations smelled of raw sewage for some time. Salt spray from Ottawa’s roads chewed up electrical works. Showers of sparks would occasionally cascade past the windows because the arm connecting the train to the power lines kept losing contact. These are just a few of the things.

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LRT derailment near Tremblay station in Ottawa Tuesday.
LRT derailment near Tremblay station in Ottawa Tuesday. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

A growing chorus of transit riders, advocates and local politicians are demanding answers.

“My biggest fear is that there will be an accident where there is personal injury or loss of life. You can’t help but feel it today, ”Ottawa Coun. Said Catherine McKenney in an interview. “What else do we know about this system that can make it insecure?”

The Federal Transport Safety Council says Ottawa’s LRT system has been derailed five times over the past two years. Three of these derailments occurred from the main tracks, probably on their way to the maintenance yard.

McKenney has called for a judicial inquiry into how the city landed in this mess and what else could be wrong with it.

“I think we can only go in good faith to the federal government and ask for more funding to continue expanding our lines,” McKenney said. “That’s what I hope a judicial inquiry will help do.”

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Mayor Jim Watson is opposed to the idea of ​​a court trial and worries that it will slow down development in the subsequent phases of the project.

Compared to the extensive systems in other cities, the Ottawa Confederation Line is fairly straightforward. Literally it is a 12.5 kilometer long, twin track with 13 stops that runs partly underground.

Track near Tremblay Station on Friday, where the LRT train derailed last week.
Track near Tremblay Station on Friday, where the LRT train derailed last week. Photo by TONY CALDWELL /Postmedia

It serves as the backbone of Ottawa’s entire transit system, which has replaced fast transit routes in and out of the city center. Without it, the entire system stops until replacement buses can be assembled to take passengers down busy streets not intended for heavy transit.

Construction is already underway on Phase 2, which would extend the line to the east and west.

The federal Liberals’ re-election campaign promised to speed up major public transit projects, and newly elected Ottawa Liberal MP Jenna Sudds, who had served as city councilor since 2018, promised the party would make extending the troubled Confederate line even further into suburbs a top priority.

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In the meantime, not a single train has run for several weeks, and it will not be until repairs have been made and the system is considered safe. There is no information on how long it will take.

Part of the LRT sits near the tracks.
Part of the LRT sits near the tracks. Photo by TONY CALDWELL /Postmedia

“At this point, we do not know,” Watson said Friday. “We will not open it until it is completely in accordance with our standards, and we have it signed by our independent safety monitor.”

Back in 2019, shortly after the line was first opened, the doors to the trains would get stuck and fix the system for long periods of time. The crowds would build up to the point that hordes of commuters chose to make the 3.5-kilometer walk to the center on foot instead.

That’s when Matthew Roberts, a software developer living in Ottawa, set up LRTdown.ca to track down interruptions and delays. An automated Twitter account lets riders know how many days it has been since the last delay. The website on one page says: “Is LRT down? YES.”

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“It seemed like there were constant issues, so I thought it would be fun,” Roberts said in an interview.

Little did he know that the joke would still be relevant two years later. The website is not perfect, it simply scrapes OC Transpos service tweets, so it will occasionally miss an interruption if the transit service fails to tweet it out.

The longest line of actual service on record according to the program? 32 days.

September 19 derailment.
September 19 derailment. Photo by TONY CALDWELL /Postmedia

“It tells me there are problems,” Roberts said. “It’s just been one problem after another, and I honestly think it’s embarrassing.”

David Jeanes has been an advocate for better rail options as a member of Transport Action Canada since 1976, and he said he has never seen the kind of problems Ottawa is experiencing.

“All the problems that happened in Ottawa can happen occasionally elsewhere. But they do not have a new problem every week, ”he said.

A project is not enough to break Canada’s confidence in light rail, Jeanes said, but other cities will closely monitor Ottawa’s situation to see if they can avoid the same accidents.

It’s too late to tear up the tracks, he said, so it’s now the only solution to fix it.

“I still hope Ottawa’s system will work because we can not do without it,” he said.

Although no one is quite sure what it takes to get the project back on track.

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