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East-end LRT down through the night after ice buildup, damage to power system

Crews work on a stalled LRT train near Lees station Thursday. As of 4:45 p.m., trains were still not running between uOttawa and Blair station following a bout of freezing rain that caused ice buildup on the overhead power system. (David Bates-Taillefer/CBC - image credit)
Crews work on a stalled LRT train near Lees station Thursday. As of 4:45 p.m., trains were still not running between uOttawa and Blair station following a bout of freezing rain that caused ice buildup on the overhead power system. (David Bates-Taillefer/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa's light rail trains have been offline for more than 16 hours between Blair and uOttawa stations and will remain so until at least Friday morning after freezing rain likely damaged the Confederation Line's overhead power system.

Just before 5 a.m. Thursday, OC Transpo tweeted that the line had been fully closed.

The agency said around 6:15 a.m. that the western part of the line between Tunney's Pasture and uOttawa stations had reopened, but as of about 9:30 p.m., the remaining eastern stretch was still shut down.

R1 replacement buses continue to run between Rideau and Blair stations.

In a Thursday morning memo, Renée Amilcar, the city's transit services general manager, said two trains stopped around 11:45 p.m. Wednesday night between Lees and Hurdman stations.

After just under an hour, 37 passengers were escorted to Hurdman to get on a bus, Amilcar said.

It's believed ice buildup on the power system stopped the trains, she said. Video tweeted just after 11 p.m. showed bright flashes and sparks around the system near Hurdman.

There was another power outage that lasted less than half an hour between Blair and Tremblay stations just after midnight Thursday.

Amilcar said because freezing rain kept falling and trains weren't running, ice began to form on the power system east of Lees.

Damage to overhead wire

In her first in a series of followup memos, Amilcar wrote that the two trains between Lees and Hurdman remained halted as of 6:30 a.m., while a third train was still stopped at Tremblay.

Maintenance workers were removing ice from the power system and that was delaying moving those trains, she said.

On Thursday afternoon, Amilcar provided a further update: as one of the trains near Lees was being returned to OC Transpo's maintenance facility, part of the overhead wire powering the train was damaged.

That would have to be repaired, she wrote, and the entire system would have to be inspected before full service could resume.

Amilcar did not say how long that would take.

Then on Thursday evening, Amilcar said repairs were still underway on the system near Lees and would continue through the night.

She promised a further update Friday morning before service got underway.

Trevor Pritchard/CBC
Trevor Pritchard/CBC

Sparks were 'significant'

Rideau Transit Maintenance believes the "significant" sparks, or arcing, that occurred Wednesday night may also have damaged the overhead system, Amilcar said.

She added the phenomenon is fairly common.

"Flashes of light or sparks, known as 'arcing', frequently occur in inclement weather in Ottawa and on similar rail systems with overhead power," Amilcar wrote.

"On O-Train Line 1, there are safety measures in place to ensure that when arcing occurs the train can continue to operate safely."

A freezing rain warning was in place for Ottawa until 10 a.m. Thursday. Freezing rain was reported at the international airport starting around 10 p.m. Wednesday, switching to freezing drizzle early Thursday morning.

Concerns about the LRT system's winter performance date to before it opened, according to reports obtained by CBC at the time. A provincial inquiry last year said the line was rushed into service.

More recently, there were two problems with the power system in the back half of December 2022: a mechanical failure Dec. 17 near Lees station and a broken wire near Cyrville station Dec. 30.