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Council doesn't address latest LRT derailment as some members pursue judicial inquiry

Ottawa Citizen logo Ottawa Citizen 2021-09-22 Jon Willing
a train on a steel track: Ottawa's Confederation LRT line is out of service after this train derailed on Sunday near Tremblay Station. © Provided by Ottawa Citizen Ottawa's Confederation LRT line is out of service after this train derailed on Sunday near Tremblay Station.
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City council didn’t address the out-of-order Confederation Line during a regular meeting Wednesday, despite a majority of members agreeing that they should at least debate the idea of reconvening this week and holding more transit commission meetings until the $2.1-billion LRT system is back online.

The latest derailment of an Alstom Citadis Spirit train has brought the return of a replacement bus service running parallel to the 12.5-kilometre LRT line. OC Transpo could be pulling more high-capacity buses from other routes to bolster service during the busiest periods.

The replacement buses could be running for three weeks until Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) repairs damaged infrastructure and the city receives the safety OK from investigators at the Transportation Safety Board (TSB).

LRT wasn’t on council’s meeting agenda, which was finalized last Friday before the Sunday derailment near Tremblay Station, but Coun. Jeff Leiper, backed by Coun. Shawn Menard, hoped colleagues would be open to the discussion in light of the crippled LRT system.

Leiper needed 18 votes to walk on the motion but only secured 16, with Watson encouraging members to vote against it. Councillors Scott Moffatt, Tim Tierney, George Darouze, Jean Cloutier, Eli El-Chantiry and Hubley joined Watson in denying Leiper’s walk-on motion. (Coun. Jenna Sudds, who’s waiting to be confirmed as the Liberal MP for Kanata-Carleton, was absent from the council meeting).

“The number one priority I have is to fix the system, stabilize the system and grow the system and I believe the best use of our staff time is not preparing for a meeting every two weeks, but actually getting to the root cause of the problems so that we can bring a reliable system to the people of Ottawa,” Watson said after the meeting.

Watson said meetings might be “good political theatre” but they’re not a good use of staff resources.

Leiper acknowledged that he didn’t check first with Hubley, the chair of the transit commission, about increasing the number of commission meetings.

Council won’t avoid talking about LRT in October, however.

In fact, the next council meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 13, has potential to be a extraordinary when it comes to public transit, based on the signals councillors made on Wednesday:

  • Councillors Catherine McKenney and Carol Anne Meehan will ask council to request a judicial inquiry into the LRT system and its governance.
  • Councillors Diane Deans and Riley Brockingon want city management to produce a report on the potential for ending the 30-year maintenance contract with RTM and creating an in-house LRT maintenance regime.
  • Hubley and Watson wants Transpo to not charge riders in December in recognition of the transit troubles. If approved, it would be the first time ever that the city shuts off the fare boxes and opens the fare gates for a whole month.

Council members on Oct. 5 will receive a confidential update from staff on the ongoing legal dispute with the Rideau Transit Group, the builder of the LRT system and affiliate of RTM.

The short history of the Confederation Line has entered another dark period with two train derailments since the beginning of August. Train service was out for five days after the Aug. 8 derailment near Tunney’s Pasture, but the derailment on Sunday west of Tremblay Station caused more damage to the infrastructure on the rail corridor. No one was hurt in both cases.

The TSB continues to have investigators looking into Sunday’s derailment but they authorized the train to be slowly moved back to the maintenance and storage facility on Wednesday.

While the TSB said this week that the westbound train derailed before it entered Tremblay Station and didn’t stop until after it crossed a bridge over Riverside Drive, the city was still uncertain of how long the train travelled off the tracks.

John Manconi, the city’s general manager of transportation services, said the city doesn’t know exactly where the derailment started, noting that the TSB’s analysis is an “initial assessment” and the first observation of the investigator. The federal agency is receiving video footage from the station and an account of what happened from the train operator, Manconi said.

“I saw some of the video footage. I can’t tell you where it derailed, nor can my rail experts that have been operating trains for a very long time,” Manconi said.

Manconi said this week that one initial theory, unconfirmed by the TSB, is that a bracket on a sanding device attached under the train dislodged and caused the derailment.

The TSB hasn’t announced its own theory about how the train derailed.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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