Efforts to fix LRT damaged it further, work expected into the weekend

A broken wire on the overhead power system for Ottawa's Confederation Line Jan. 6, 2023. (David Bates/Radio-Canada - image credit)
A broken wire on the overhead power system for Ottawa's Confederation Line Jan. 6, 2023. (David Bates/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Workers trying to fix the overhead power system for Ottawa's light rail line broke another wire Friday morning, and the city now expects that work to remove ice and restore full service in a closed section of the line will last into the weekend.

Confederation Line trains are running on two loops: four trains between Blair and Tremblay stations for a train every five or six minutes and two between Tunney's Pasture and uOttawa stations for 15 minutes between trains.

R1 bus service remains in place between St-Laurent and Rideau stations.

There's no set time for full service to be restored.

Memos from the city and a Friday afternoon news conference that included the CEO of the track maintenance group give a picture of a cascading set of problems.

A freezing rain warning Wednesday night saw ice begin to fall by 10 p.m. at the international airport, according to Environment Canada.

Video tweeted just after 11 p.m. showed bright flashes and sparks around the system near Hurdman station, which the city said can happen in challenging weather and aren't necessarily a safety risk.

Two trains stopped around 11:45 p.m. Wednesday between Lees and Hurdman stations, which transit services general manager Renée Amilcar said at the time was because of ice buildup on the power system.

Rideau Transit Maintenance CEO Mario Guerra said when the trains stopped, more ice built up on the equipment to the point trains couldn't get through. A train that crews were trying to move from the Lees station area to a maintenance facility damaged a wire on Thursday.

Friday morning, OC Transpo said overhead wires near Lees station had been repaired and work was being done to move the two out-of-service trains near that station.

Then, in a memo around noon, Amilcar said there had been a setback.

"[Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM)] sent a train to this area with a special attachment called a winter carbon strip to remove ice from the [overhead] wire … That solution was unsuccessful to remove the ice buildup and caused further damage to a short section of [the wire] which will require repairs," she wrote.

David Bates/Radio-Canada
David Bates/Radio-Canada

Amilcar didn't know when the section could reopen to trains, but wrote that "we anticipate this will continue into the weekend."

Guerra said Friday they'd have a better idea of how ice removal was going and what the timeline might be around 4 p.m.

Ice is being removed manually by workers in bucket trucks, he said. Then the power system has to be repaired, then they have to move the two stopped trains, and then they have to test the system to make sure trains can safely run.

There was also a power outage that lasted less than half an hour between Blair and Tremblay stations just after midnight Thursday which led to a stopped train near Tremblay and ice to form on the eastern section of the rail.

Ice had been successfully cleared from that part of the line overnight Thursday into Friday, Amilcar had said.

Preventing a repeat

Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower, chair of the city's transit commission, said Thursday once the problem is solved the next steps will be figuring out why it happened and stopping a repeat.

"We're certainly not the only city that gets freezing rain or that has rail that runs on wires. This is a very common system. So are we maintaining it and do we have processes and procedures that are similar to what other cities do? And if we don't, what needs to be changed?" he said.

Guerra said transit riders can expect the system to be better prepared in the future to move trains in icy conditions to try to avoid similar buildup.