LRT shut down again after 2nd train derailment since August

·5 min read
Caution tape is strung up next to the site of an LRT train derailment on Ottawa's Confederation Line on Sept. 19, 2021. No one was injured when the train left the tracks. (Nicholas Cleroux/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Caution tape is strung up next to the site of an LRT train derailment on Ottawa's Confederation Line on Sept. 19, 2021. No one was injured when the train left the tracks. (Nicholas Cleroux/Radio-Canada - image credit)

It could be at least a week before service resumes on Ottawa's Confederation LRT line, officials say, after a train derailed Sunday afternoon — the second derailment since the beginning of August.

Sources have confirmed 13 people were on board the train when it went off the tracks just before 12:30 p.m. Sunday west of Tremblay station.

No one was injured in the incident, said John Manconi, general manager of the city's transportation services department.

Two axles on the train's second car came dislodged from the rail, Manconi said in a Sunday evening statement. The train had recently undergone repairs to one of its axles, but Manconi said it wasn't yet clear whether that axle had anything to do with the derailment.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is already on site and, along with City of Ottawa teams, has begun investigating "where the derailment started, the extent of the damage, and the root cause," Manconi wrote.

None of the wheels came loose from the axle, he added.

Police were still on scene early Sunday evening reviewing whether "outside factors" contributed to the derailment, Manconi said.

Replacement buses running

The derailment caused significant damage to the train, the track and a switch box, said Rideau Transit Maintenance CEO Mario Guerra at a press briefing late Sunday afternoon.

Based on the extent of the damage, the Confederation Line will likely remain out of service for at least a week, he said.

OC Transpo says R1 replacement buses are running to help transport people, and transit riders should expect longer travel times when planning their routes.

Those buses would be in place to help people get to polling stations on Monday for the federal election, Guerra said.

In a press release, Ottawa Fire Services said the train derailed near Riverside Drive. When crews arrived, they determined the incident to be minor.

"Prior to arrival, OC Transpo had de-energized the train and stopped train traffic in both directions. Ottawa fire crews assisted with the evacuation of persons who were on board," the release said.

Crews also made sure the train "would not need to be stabilized prior to an investigation being conducted," the fire department said.

Incident 'bizarre,' says rider

Steph Chevalier-Crockett was returning home from a visit with a friend when she boarded the train at Tremblay.

The short, slow ride was bumpy, Chevalier-Crockett said, before the train came to a complete stop. For what seemed about 15 minutes, there was no indication of what happened, she said.

"Everyone just sat there looking at each other," said Chevalier-Crockett, who works for a city councillor.

Over the next half hour, passengers heard announcements that officials were getting help because the train was out of service. Even when she saw special constables, firefighters and paramedics pull up, Chevalier-Crockett said she wasn't overly worried as she "thought it was normal."

An OC Transpo special constable boarded and eventually helped passengers off the train, Chevalier-Crockett said. They disembarked on the south side and then walked on the gravel path in between the two sets of rails, back to Tremblay station.

It doesn't inspire confidence, to say the least. - Steph Chevalier-Crockett

An older couple with mobility issues needed some help, said Chevalier-Crockett.

"I figured it was safe, but it was bizarre."

Chevalier-Crockett was riding on the "front" car — LRT trains are comprised of two separate light-rail vehicles that are linked together — and the derailment occurred on the "back" car, the one closer to Tremblay station.

"So when we were walking past the back car, that's when I saw the derailment," she said. "It was quite a bit off the tracks and leading to the other side. It was much worse than I thought."

The passengers were then led across the tracks and down a grassy bank toward the pathway on the north side of the rails, and told a bus would come to take them to Hurdman station. Chevalier-Crockett got permission from officials to go back to Tremblay station to catch a cab.

"It doesn't feel great. It doesn't inspire confidence, to say the least," she said.

Nicholas Cleroux/Radio-Canada
Nicholas Cleroux/Radio-Canada

'Not a safe system'

As of late Sunday night, the derailed train was being secured so that TSB teams could return to the site Monday, Manconi said.

All other trains on the line would be inspected and then driven back to the city's Belfast Yard maintenance facility, he said.

Sunday's derailment comes six weeks after a train derailed Aug. 8 at Tunney's Pasture station when an axle broke and a wheel snapped off.

That event also shut down the Confederation Line for almost a week.

Following an investigation, it turned out a total of 10 light rail vehicles in OC Transpo's fleet of 39 needed repair due to axle bearing issues.

"What we have here is not just an inferior system, but I'm afraid that it is not a safe system," said Coun. Catherine McKenney, who sits on the city's transit commission.

"The people in this city who ride transit, who take the train every day, the people in this city who paid for this system deserve answers. And we have to start to also demand that alongside them."

In a tweet, Mayor Jim Watson said city staff were gathering information about the latest derailment and that transit commission would be briefed Monday morning.

"I'm sure it's frustrating for the city and OC Transpo," said Steven Grant, who was cycling near Tremblay station Sunday when he noticed gravel from beneath the rails had sprayed all over the bike path.

Soon after, he came across the derailed LRT train.

"[It's] certainly frustrating for the taxpayers as well when we see strings of these incidents," he said.

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