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LRT axle redesign ‘paused’ while Alstom awaits further guidance from RTG: Source

The previously proposed axle redesign for the light rail vehicles on Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT is not off the table, despite a city report suggesting otherwise, a source familiar with the matter tells CTV News Ottawa.

A report prepared for Friday’s joint meeting of the Transit Commission and Light-Rail Subcommittee said the train manufacturer believes a solution to problems linked to the axles on the trains can be achieved without a redesign of the cartridge bearing assembly, but the city does not accept that conclusion. The redesign was touted last summer as a “permanent fix” following a 28-day shutdown.

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

CTV News Ottawa spoke to an individual with knowledge of the issue on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to speak publicly. 

According to this source, the initial work on the axle redesign was completed, but any further work is currently paused while Alstom waits for more cues from the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), which has still not accepted Alstom’s root cause analysis. Alstom is a subcontractor of RTG.

Alstom has previously said the cause of the issues with the axles is excessive lateral loads on the wheels caused by the tight curves on the track, like the ones near Hurdman Station. The company has trains in 140 cities around the world, but says the problems found in Ottawa are not seen in any other city.

Last October, Alstom made nine recommendations toward a sustainable solution, including deploying top-of-rail lubrication, repositioning the restraining rails to avoid contact with the wheels, installing pins on the nuts that can come loose because of those lateral loads, and using stronger steel for the rails on the curves. Redesigning the cartridge bearing assembly was not one of the nine recommendations, but was considered an additional measure that could help. A full redesign would take upwards of two years to implement because of the extensive testing required.

The installation of the top-of-rail lubrication and the addition of nut pins on the vehicles are both in progress, while adjustments have already been made to the restraining rails. An issue that has yet to be addressed, however, is the quality of the steel on the curves. In addition to Alstom’s recommendations last fall, a recent report by the National Research Council of Canada also recommended high-strength rail on tight curves.

Last October, RTG said replacing the rails with a harder steel was under investigation, but any changes of that magnitude would require a lengthy shutdown.

RTG continues to work with its own independent engineering firm to review Alstom’s report and produce a consolidated document.

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe told reporters after Wednesday’s city council meeting that he is frustrated to see Alstom and RTG disagree on the root cause of the problems.

“I imagine that it’s not unusual when there are two large players involved in building a system of this nature, and when something goes wrong, that there’s disagreement on the root cause and that they will work it out over time,” Sutcliffe said. “Our relationship is with RTG and we’re holding them accountable for delivering the system that we paid for. So, it’s incumbent on those two parties to work it out, agree on the root cause, agree on the solution, and move forward on implementing it.”

The Transit Commission and the Light Rail Subcommittee meet at 9:30 a.m. today, where a presentation will go over some of the measures that have already been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. The presentation will include elements from the City of Ottawa and from RTG. Alstom will not be present. 

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