LRT train maker stops design work on new axle hubs

The maker of the light rail trains has stopped design work on what was promised as a permanent fix.

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Good morning!

Would you believe it’s another week of bad LRT news? The train maker and the train track builder disagree on what’s breaking the trains, and now we’re at something of an impasse. 

What’s crazy- making about all this is there’s always something new. Each time it seems like we’re seeing the light at the end of the (musty) tunnel, some new wrench gets tossed in the works.

So, onward we plod, with slow, squeaky trains and the faint hope that someday, maybe, the LRT will work as you might expect.

Anyway, let’s get to it.

— Robert Hiltz, managing editor


Wednesday: 19 🌡️ 7 | 🌤

Thursday: 20 🌡️ 8 | ☀️

Friday: 22 🌡️ 10 | ☀️


Train maker stops work on wheel hub redesign


Robert Hiltz/Ottawa Lookout

What happened: Well, so much for the promised permanent LRT fix. LRT train maker Alstom has halted design work on the much-touted revamped wheel hubs, according to a new city report

“Alstom has indicated that a sustainable solution can be achieved without a redesign and is not currently working on this initiative. The city has formally communicated the imperative for the re-design work to re-commence,” staff wrote.

  • Last summer, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and other city officials said redesigning the wheel hub assemblies of the trains would be a final fix to the trains’ issues. 

In dispute: The train maker has long been at odds with Rideau Transit Group (the consortium that handles the construction and maintenance of the system) and the city over the true cause of the trains’ flaws. In Alstom’s analysis, what’s necessary is replacing the rails in some of the tighter curves, mostly in the east end, with stronger, higher-grade steel. 

  • According to city staff, the National Research Council agreed that better steel on the curves could help alleviate the problem.

Rewind: Since the derailment and last year’s lengthy shutdown, the trains are slowly having pins placed in a troublesome nut to keep it from spinning loose. These pins mean the hub assemblies only need to be taken apart every 400,000 km (about every five years) for inspection. But only about half the trains have so far been retrofitted with the pins.

  • What’s happened is when too much force goes through the axle, a nut that holds the bearings and other components together comes loose, causing the assembly to eventually fail. 

In the meantime, trains are running at reduced speeds through much of the eastern end of the rail system, where tight curves put more stress on the trains.

From the start: As Justice Willing Horrigan noted in his LRT inquiry report, the Alstom Citadis Spirit trains were an unproven design, and pushed to their limits. Large and heavy, and set on a schedule that required high acceleration and braking, the newly designed trains were put under excessive stress. 

The profit motive: Previously, transit general manager Renée Amilcar had said she hoped the two sides would put aside commercial considerations in working toward a fix.

The problem here is that the city signed onto a public-private partnership. In exchange for offloading the financial risk of cost overruns, the city gave over the maintenance and operation of the rail line to a private consortium for several decades. 

  • As Horrigan wrote: “Given that the project agreement put the risk on RTG to supply a proven vehicle, and that RTG [...] subcontracted that task to Alstom, the city had no direct relationship with the key supplier.

City’s position: Now that RTG and Alstom are at odds over what needs to be done, the city has taken the side of its maintenance operator. Chair of the transit commission, Coun. Glen Gower, told CBC that the city “cannot accept that it doesn't need a redesign.”

Inevitable: This arrangement makes it inevitable that RTG cannot put aside commercial interests, because all it has are commercial interests. It’s a private company, after all. (One that already had to deal with, among other issues, the Rideau sinkhole, which cost an estimated $100 million to repair.)

  • If the city wanted a train operator whose priority was the public interest, it could have kept the trains in public hands. Insulating the city from financial risk is all well and good on paper, but we’ve seen now that the result is a poorly designed system with serious reliability issues.

What next? There are a series of engineering reports, and reports summarizing those reports, expected in the months to come. In addition to a report from Alstom, and a report from the National Research Council, there is a third-party report from RTG, and another from a firm hired by the city to check the work of all these reports.

From there, either Alstom or RTG are going to have to give way. 

  • There is a planned maintenance shutdown for October, though no details of what work will be done have been provided. It’s possible that time could be used to put in higher-grade steel in some of the more troublesome curves. But given the current posture of the city and RTG, that seems unlikely.

The bottom line: The LRT problems are one of design. The physical trains and tracks, but also the structure of the deal to build and maintain them. Whatever’s next, the idea of a permanent fix to anything on the LRT seems a long way off. 

Some (small) good news: On the plus side, transit riders can now use their debit cards to tap onto OC Transpo buses to pay fares. Tapping automatically charges an adult fare, but caps out at the price of a daily pass, CBC reported.

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☔️ 38.7mm: The amount of rain that fell Monday, a record for May 27. Ottawa was under a tornado watch, but escaped any twisters. At least one touched down in Quebec near the town of Rigaud. [CTV]

🔫 95: The number of firearms — including handguns, rifles, and shotguns — seized by the OPP in a major drug bust in Tyendinaga Township. Four people are facing 500 drug and firearms charges. [CTV]


📸 The city of Kingston is going to roll out a pair of speed cameras as part of a pilot program. Revenues from tickets issued by the cameras will pay for the system and fund road safety. The cameras will be mobile and moved to new locations about every three months. [CBC]

🚨 A man pulled from the water at Britannia Beach did not survive. He was taken to hospital in life-threatening condition, and pronounced dead at the hospital. Lifeguards won’t be posted at city beaches until June 15. [CBC]

🛣️ Three protestors are facing charges for disrupting traffic by climbing onto signs overhead the 417, including at the Woodroffe exit. Fire crews were needed to bring the protestors down safely. The protestors are part of Last Generation, a climate change protest group that want a national fire fighting service because of increased wildfires. [CTV]

⛈️ Seven people were displaced after lightning struck a Gatineau townhome. The fire caused by the strike caused severe damage to the building, but no one was hurt. [CTV]

🐛 For the past three years, scientists have been releasing a species of moth whose caterpillars eat an invasive plant called phragmite. The moths have been released at specific sites from North Bay to east of Ottawa and as far south as Hamilton and Windsor. The phragmite can take over wetlands and lower water levels, as well as disturb the habitat of turtles and other aquatic animals. [CBC]

💐 A motorcyclist appears to have lost control of his bike in a single-vehicle crash south of Barry’s Bay on Saturday. The rider died of his injuries after being thrown from the motorcycle. [CBC]


Could an early election be coming? Signs point to maybe

What happened: Rumblings of an early provincial election are rising as Premier Doug Ford rushes to get beer sales into corner stores, which may have a higher actual cost than advertised. Ford has been coy about whether he plans on calling an election, despite winning a majority in 2022.

The scoop: Insiders told the Toronto Star that the premier and his team are worried a possible federal Conservative government would make large budget cuts, including transfers to provinces, hurting the Conservative brand and putting the provincial Tories in a bind. When pressed by reporters whether Ford was considering a snap election, he declined to give a definitive answer.

First step: Paying The Beer Store $225 million to end its near-monopoly on sales early clears a key campaign promise from 2018, and, according to the Star, gives Ford the ability to call an election in the fall or next spring with that bit of their agenda complete.

Booze boondoggle? The $225 million may be only the tip of the cost iceberg. According to CBC, the government will lose an additional $150 million to $200 million every year by waiving certain service fees, offering rebates, lost LCBO revenue, and other knock-on effects of the rapid policy change. 

Under investigation: The Greenbelt scandal is carrying on, as the province’s privacy commissioner is looking into whether government staffers used private emails — which aren’t accessible as government records — as they worked out a land swap deal that opened protected lands for development, The Canadian Press reported. (After much controversy, the government reversed course and re-protected that land.)

Meanwhile: The federal government and province came to a deal for a $375-million transfer to Ontario for affordable housing funds, CTV reported. The province promised to provide more data to the feds.


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🕳️ To surely no one’s surprise, Carling Avenue has once again been voted the worst road in the city in the annual Canadian Automobile Association survey. Bronson, Bank, Hunt Club, and Merivale rounded out the top five. [CTV]

🚑 A plan by the Ottawa Paramedic Service to ease pressure on ambulances by offering taxi rides to patients with certain non-critical maladies was rejected by the province. The Ontario government did not want paramedics coordinating alternate transport for patients. The city is still looking for a way to make the program work. [CTV]

👮‍♂️ The promised opening of the Ottawa Police Service Rideau Street outpost has been pushed back. The police chief said supply chain issues mean the facility, set for the Rideau Centre, won’t open June 3 as planned. There is no opening date announced yet. [CTV]

🤕 So far this year there have been 60 confirmed cases of Lyme disease reported across the province. The illness is carried by ticks, which have been expanding their territory further north thanks to a warming climate. [CTV]

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  • This year’s CityFolk festival will include Rise Against, The Beaches, Gretta Van Fleet, Jason Isbell and more. [CTV]

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  • Get your bug spray and long pants out, it’s going to be a rough year for mosquitoes. [CTV]

  • Ottawa is one of six cities joining the new Northern Super League of women’s professional soccer. [CBC]

  • Curler Brendan Bottcher will join Rachel Homan’s team as coach. [CBC]

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