Latest LRT probe gives public best chance at understanding maintenance problems
Transportation Resource Associates experts, tasked with undertaking a safety review, have been on the job since Oct. 1. The city expects Rideau Transit Group to cover the costs of TRA's work.
Author of the article: Jon Willing
Publishing date: Oct 23, 2021 • 5 hours ago • 3 minute read • Join the conversation
LRT derailment near Tremblay station. PHOTO BY TONY CALDWELL /Postmedia
The ongoing LRT shutdown might provide the most transparent, independent review of the behind-the-scenes maintenance regime in the short history of the beleaguered Confederation Line.
The city’s decision to make its latest rail consultants available for questions, and in public forums, is a change in approach after years of the city being concerned about the legal ramifications of being transparent with LRT information.
Transportation Resource Associates (TRA) is the Philadelphia-based firm assessing the return-to-service plan proposed by Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM), which is the maintenance division of the Rideau Transit Group (RTG).
TRA’s experts, who are tasked with undertaking a safety review, have been on the job since Oct. 1. The city expects RTG to cover the costs of TRA’s work.
The LRT system has been closed since Sept. 19, when a gearbox loosened from an Alstom Citadis Spirit train, causing a derailment. It was the second derailment in as many months. A train left the tracks near Tunney’s Pasture on Aug. 8. No one was hurt in either derailment.
It’s rare that city-hired consultants, especially those tasked with investigating LRT matters, are made available to answer questions publicly from councillors and transit commissioners, but three TRA experts were available to provide information during the transit commission meeting last Wednesday.
The city also allowed TRA consultants to take questions from reporters in a post-meeting media conference.
City manager Steve Kanellakos is requiring a TRA-led briefing for council members, transit commissioners and journalists before the LRT system reopens. The city doesn’t know yet when the LRT system will be back online.
TRA might also be in a position to answer a big question on the minds of many Ottawa residents: Are the problems documented over the past two years in Ottawa unique for an upstart LRT system?
TRA’s Daniel Hauber offered an answer, though he acknowledged he hadn’t added up all the issues in Ottawa to say if they were more or less than those in other cities.
“Certainly there are a lot of rail systems, especially new rail systems, that have hiccups starting out,” Hauber told reporters, and he explained that the problems could take all sorts of forms in both infrastructure and rail vehicles.
Hauber said he had seen rail systems go months or longer with challenges.
His TRA colleague, Christopher Wallgren, said pretty much every new project had “growing pains” and it was important that an organization had a long-term commitment to safety management.
In a nutshell, that’s what TRA will be looking for when it reviews the documents provided by the city and RTM: Can the Confederation Line safely return to service in the short term, and is the maintenance regime set up for long-term safety and reliability?
Hauber said there would be issues with any transportation system, but there needed to be measures to make sure the risk of catastrophic incidents was low.
City management doesn’t seem interested in keeping this LRT review secret. There’s too much pressure from politicians and the public to make LRT decisions more transparent, especially after two high-profile breakdowns and a lengthy period of no LRT service.
The city and RTG have brought in independent consultants before to pore over the maintenance regime when problems deeply impacted LRT service.
There was intense interest when the British firm JBA Corp. came to Ottawa to assess the LRT maintenance program in early 2020, when RTM had trouble completing critical repairs and upkeep. First, the city hired JBA for a review and then RTM retained the consultant.
While TRA will shed some light on RTM’s ability to maintain the LRT system, there will still be elements kept secret from the public.
The public likely won’t get a chance to see the return-to-service plan that RTM provided to the city since the LRT contractor says it needs to uphold confidentiality agreements with its main subcontractor, Alstom.