Issues leading to LRT derailment ‘still pose a safety risk’: TSB report

The TSB determined that the problems that caused previous derailments on the Confederation Line still posed a safety hazard.  (David Bates-Taillefer/Radio-Canada - photo credit)

The TSB determined that the problems that caused previous derailments on the Confederation Line still posed a safety hazard. (David Bates-Taillefer/Radio-Canada – photo credit)

The issues that led to an August 2021 derailment and a July 2022 component failure on Ottawa’s light rail system “remain a safety concern until the issues are resolved,” the Transportation Safety Board says.

In a letter to city officials dated February 3, 2023, Vincenzo De Angelis, the board’s director of rail investigations, says the cartridge assembly failure that caused the derailment was likely due to the actual design of Alstom’s Citadis Spirit vehicle – a Design the city you want.

According to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), Ottawa was the first city to ever use the Citadis Spirit, a winterized version of the French train manufacturer’s Citadis model that works reliably in other parts of the world.

But the Citadis Spirit, built for the Confederation Line, “has had numerous reliability problems and experienced two major derailments on the main line since it entered service,” the safety inspector wrote.

This is despite Ottawa’s trains being fitted with the same cartridge assembly as other Citadis trains.

Instead, the TSB believes the specific design required by the city is part of the problem. Ottawa ordered a train that would carry more people at faster speeds than is typical for light rail.

During last year’s public LRT inquiry, Alstom executives said the trains ordered by the city didn’t exist – it was a prototype – and pushed the limits of what a light rail vehicle could do. Alstom even designed a new bogie, or bogie, for Ottawa’s system that was similar to those used for the New York City subway system.

The TSB determined that the engine used in Ottawa’s light rail vehicles produces more torque and accelerates faster than the original Citadis, and frequent stops and starts could cause a number of components to wear out more quickly.

“The City of Ottawa may want to ensure that all parties involved in the OLRT enterprise are working together to resolve design, operation and maintenance safety risks as they arise,” wrote TSB’s De Angelis.

He reiterated TSB’s request that the city and the Rideau Transit Group install onboard surveillance systems “to protect the traveling public.”

The TSB can only recommend that the city convert its rail operations.

Alexander Behne/CBC

Alexander Behne/CBC

“The safety of transit customers is paramount,” Renée Amilcar, the city’s general manager of transit traffic, wrote in a memo to council members on Wednesday afternoon.

She explained the city has already taken a number of measures to “ensure the trains and the system are safe”, including:

  • Daily pre-operational inspections of all light rail vehicles by Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM).

  • Reducing the speed of trains at several points along the route.

  • Replacement of “all front and rear bogie axles” after 175,000 kilometers of operation and inspection of bearing assemblies every 7,500 kilometers. According to TSB, an axle assembly should last 1.2 million kilometers.

  • All other axles are checked every 3,750 kilometers if they have traveled more than 175,000 kilometers.

Amilcar also wrote: “RTG has installed vibration monitoring devices on some trains and plans to expand the installation to more vehicles in the coming months.”

Root cause of previous problems still unknown

Although the TSB report highlights some of the potential problems with the LRT vehicles, a more comprehensive root cause analysis of what caused the August 2021 derailment — and what could have caused another one in July 2022 — is not complete.

The inquest heard from a number of witnesses that there could be a misalignment of the train’s wheels with the Confederation Line’s track, which may have caused the first of two derailments in the past year. Commissioner of Inquiry Justice William Hourigan called it a “critical safety issue” and said a long-term solution was needed, even if it meant tearing up the track.

On August 8, 2021, an eastbound train derailed near Tunney’s Pasture after a wheel became detached from its axle. Subsequent inspection of the fleet revealed another destroyed cartridge assembly and 17 loose.

After a driver reported unusual vibrations on the train last July, an inspection found the cartridge assembly to be ten times looser than it should have been and the axle hub so damaged that “catastrophic failure would likely occur if in service.” would have stayed. “

The TSB found that some of the components showed oxidation and heat discoloration, and grease samples indicated the parts had been subjected to “a heat event above average.”

“The damage observed was widely distributed across the cartridge assemblies,” De Angelis wrote in his letter.


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