A day in the life of an LRT operator

A day in the life of an LRT operator

Former OC Transpo bus driver Ken Woods made the switch to LRT a little earlier than the rest of Ottawa. 

While many in the city hopped on and off the Confederation Line Saturday, Woods has been training to control and operate the system's trains since 2017. 

It's a job he's been itching to do, even after spending 18 years driving OC Transpo buses. 

"I absolutely knew that it's exactly what I wanted to do," Woods told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning back in 2017. "I mean, ever since I was a little kid. Who hasn't dreamt of driving a train?"

But what exactly does it take to operate one of the red-and-white light rail vehicles that will now ferry commuters back and forth across a central swath of Ottawa?

Woods sat down again with Ottawa Morning recently to explain exactly what a day on the job will be like.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Bright and early

From Monday to Friday, LRT trains will start running at 5 a.m. — meaning Woods needs to rise and shine before the trains do.

"You roll out of bed at about 4 o'clock in the morning for a 5 o'clock shift," he explained. 

He'll then don his uniform: a blue shirt, work pants and steel toe boots. It's the same uniform he wore as a bus driver, except for one item.

"The only difference between that uniform and a bus driver that you see around the city is that [LRT operators] are wearing a high-visibility vest," Woods said.

The vests keep operators safe if they need to exit the trains for any reason. 

Woods said he'll sometimes have breakfast before a shift, which might mean a visit to a Tim Horton's near Belfast Yard, OC Transpo's maintenance and storage facility.

On the job

Unlike driving a bus, a computer partially controls the operation of a light rail vehicle, Woods said.

"You have rails that hold you in place," he said. "Yes, there is a computer controlling your speed, but you are making the decisions for the train."

If an operator passes him in the opposite direction, Woods tries to be friendly.

"A lot of these interactions are done at about 70 or 80 kilometres an hour, which makes it a little difficult to figure out, 'Hey, is that Terry?'" Woods said. "No, it's not Terry, but I'm still waving."

As for meals while on the clock?

"You need to bring a lunch because your lunch is going to be spent in Bayview station," Woods said.

"There's no facilities there other than a microwave."

Day's end

As his day comes to a close, Woods expects he'll be a bit zonked out.

It's hard work to keep a close watch on the rail system's guideway, the path that trains travel along, he said.

It's a big responsibility and takes a lot of mental focus. - Ken Woods

"You are watching every single switch, whether or not it's facing you. You're checking the alignment of the switches, you're checking people on the platforms."

So far, Woods has mostly contended with workers standing near the guideway. But that will change now that passengers are riding the rails.

"We will be trying to assess 50 people on a platform or 100 people on a platform, assessing any sort of risk and bringing the train to a stop," Woods said.

"It's a big responsibility and takes a lot of mental focus."