Ottawa’s colossal LRT debacle: A brief-ish history

Derailments. Lawsuits. Delays. TVO.org breaks down the dubious milestones in the capital’s years-long transit saga
By Sarah Trick - Published on Jan 14, 2022
A derailed OC Transpo O-Train west of Tremblay LRT Station in Ottawa on September 20, 2021. (Justin Tang/CP)

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It was supposed to be revolutionary: a North American city was finally opting to rely on light rail rather than buses and subways for the bulk of its transit needs. It was supposed to be the answer to the traffic congestion that plagued Ottawa’s downtown streets, which were overloaded with buses taking commuters to and from their offices.

Instead, Ottawa’s light-rail transit system has brought a series of tribulations. The city and the construction companies are suing each other. The construction itself was plagued with problems, including sinkholes, and the line opened more than a year late. And that was only the beginning. 

Since the line’s opening, the trains have had issue after issue: in the system’s first weeks, “door faults” ground the trains to a halt. There were problems with the computers. The trains — purpose-built for winter — couldn’t work in cold temperatures. Most recently, the system shut down for almost two full months due to a derailment, which was itself the result of improper safety procedures after an earlier derailment. City council has twice voted to reject a motion for a judicial inquiry but has asked the city’s auditor to investigate. Premier Doug Ford has announced there will be a provincial inquiry into the LRT system.

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There has been so much news about the LRT recently, it’s hard to keep it straight. TVO.org has put together a timeline of Ottawa’s troubled LRT, beginning with its approval in 2012 and continuing to the present day.

December 5, 2012: Contract awarded

The contract to build and maintain the first stage of the LRT is awarded to the Rideau Transit Group consortium, which consists of the firms ACS Infrastructure Canada, EllisDon, and SNC-Lavalin. The consortium is one of three invited to submit a detailed proposal by the city and is chosen because of its lower cost. The contract is fixed-price, meaning that the consortium will take responsibility for any costs beyond the agreed-to $2.1 billion. The consortium agrees to build and maintain the line for 30 years.

December 19, 2012: Confederation Line approved

Ottawa city council unanimously approves the east-west light-rail transit line, which is to run through downtown as a replacement for the city’s downtown rapid-bus routes (known as the Transitway), where the volume of buses needed had become unsustainable. The line is a replacement for an earlier planned north-south line, which had been cancelled by the previous city administration. The 12.5-kilometre line is to run from Tunney’s Pasture station in the west to Blair station in the east, with connections to the city’s Via Rail station, the north-south Transitway, and the earlier pilot-project rail line (although the full north-south line was scrapped, the few stations in the pilot project remain open and will be integrated into the project at a later date). The line is scheduled to be completed in 2018.

April 19, 2013: Construction begins

Construction begins on one of the maintenance sites for the trains at Belfast Yard, which needs to be built before construction can begin on the line itself.

October 2013: Downtown tunnel construction begins

The city holds a ceremony to mark the construction of the downtown tunnel, which will be the centre portion of the LRT and will run under Queen Street.

February 21, 2014: Sinkhole appears

As RTG constructs the downtown tunnel, a sinkhole opens on Waller Street near the site for Rideau Station. No one is hurt, and RTG says the sinkhole did not cause any delay in construction. The consortium’s report finds the cause to have been an old construction pit that it had not found during testing.

man in construction gear stands in massive arched tunnel
Media tour the Confederation Line tunnel on August 11, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

December 20, 2015: Stations close for construction

The first stations of the Transitway, Ottawa’s rapid-bus network, close for construction. Lees station, near the University of Ottawa, and Hurdman station, the transfer point between the east-west and north-south Transitway, are the first to close, causing several bus routes to be rerouted. Soon after, on January 17, Bayview and LeBreton stations are moved to Scott and Albert Streets. Residents oppose the moves, saying they will pose a safety risk, and complaints about the amount of bus traffic in the area lead the city to reroute some buses.

June 8, 2016: Massive sinkhole opens near one of the downtown stations

A sinkhole opens near the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Street, one of the city’s busiest intersections, causing a gas leak. No one is hurt, but one person’s van falls into the sinkhole, and businesses along the street are evacuated.

The cause is later revealed to have been loose, sandy soil under the roadway, which had been disturbed by the work. The street is closed for six months, and work on the LRT is delayed. The city’s report into the causes is not made public for several months. The city chooses not to hire an independent investigator to look into the causes of the sinkhole — instead, it uses the same technical experts already working on the rail line. The city’s rail director tells CBC News that “we didn’t see this as any conflict of interest” because these experts were already familiar with the project. RTG starts its own independent investigation, and both the city and RTG file insurance claims.

November 10, 2016: Workers trapped

Three workers at LRT subcontractor Hardrock Construction are trapped in the downtown tunnel after a portion of it collapses. All three require rescue, and one suffers a minor hand injury.

a man in a suit stands with a group of construction workers
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson speaks to LRT staff at the construction site at Waller Street, where concrete from the roof of a tunnel fell, on November 10, 2016. (Justin Tang/CP)

December 2, 2016: Testing begins

On-track testing of the trains begins, with trains running between Blair and Cyrville stations, on the east end of the line.

May 2017: Hotel sues over sinkhole

Starwood Capital group, the owners of the Westin Hotel on Rideau Street, sues both the City and RTG for $100,000 for costs incurred as a result of the sinkhole evacuation.

May 24, 2018: First handover deadline missed

RTG misses the deadline. It is later revealed that there was no penalty that could be assessed against RTG in the contract, as the contract stipulates that it could set its own new deadline, which it did, saying that it would deliver the system by November 2.

June 6, 2018: Several businesses file lawsuits over sinkhole

Several businesses in the Rideau Centre and on Rideau Street file lawsuits over costs related to the sinkhole, joining several others with litigation already in progress. 

August 3, 2018: OC Transpo issues layoff notices to 345 drivers

OC Transpo says it decided on the layoffs, which will take effect December 1, because it anticipates fewer buses will be needed with the opening of the LRT. One train, it says, can carry the same number of passengers as eight articulated buses. Representatives say the number of drivers to be laid off is lower than anticipated, because it has worked with the union to manage retirements and vacancies.

Agenda segment, October 26, 2021: Ottawa's LRT update

September 2018: OC Transpo changes several routes

The transit agency shortens a number of routes in anticipation of the LRT’s opening. Passengers travelling into downtown from adjacent neighbourhoods, such as Vanier, report delays. Although it’s becoming clear that RTG won’t meet its next deadline, most of the changes remain in place. RTG tells the city it can meet its deadline, but only with certain pieces “carved out” of the contract, such as not opening one entrance to Rideau station, not delivering two trains, and eliminating the requirement for 12 consecutive days of testing in which no issues occur. The city says no.

October 2018: Bus-driver layoffs delayed

OC Transpo temporarily rescinds bus-drivers’ layoffs, anticipating that RTG will not meet its second deadline.

November 2, 2018: Second handover deadline missed

RTG misses another deadline to hand over the system, incurring a penalty of $1 million. 

February 7, 2019: City inspectors release a report

In the leadup to another handover deadline on March 31, a report by city inspectors says that, during testing in winter 2018, the city “expressed concern on the effectiveness of switch heaters to prevent ice and snow from building up and immobilizing the switch points and switch rods” and that it had found issues with all the heaters on the main line. (The trains, Alstom Citadis Spirit, are supposed to be specially designed for North American winters but have never been used before.)

March 4, 2019: Internal reports made public

CBC News obtains more internal reports through an access-to-information request. These reports show serious concerns about the trains’ capacity to handle winter weather. One report states that "vehicles are currently unreliable to the point that it has not been demonstrated that operations can be sustained during a winter weather event”; many parts froze, and some broke off. 

March 6, 2019: Council votes for an LRT expansion

Ottawa city council votes 19-3 in favour of a $4.66 billion expansion of the LRT, which will add 24 new stations and extend it to the east, west, and south ends of the city. The vote is done in a hurry, because the bids will expire soon. Councillor Catherine McKenney had moved to give councillors an extra two weeks to read the technical reports; the motion is defeated. Some councillors feel that the process is rushed and that they don’t understand what it is they have voted for — but that they have no choice, because the Confederation Line won’t work without the expansion. "Today for the first time, I'm going to be making a decision without having all the facts or being able to describe to residents exactly what the implications of my decision are," says Councillor Jeff Leiper. (Leiper votes for the expansion.) Diane Deans, one of the those who vote no, says she didn’t receive a clear answer on whether the winning bidder received the required technical score of 70 per cent. (The winning bid for the north-south extension went to SNC-Lavalin alone, while the east-west extension went to another consortium, East-West Connectors.) Construction work on the line begins soon afterward.

women carrying umbrella walks in front of a train station
O-train's Rideau station on June 20, 2019. (Lars Hagberg/CP)

March 23, 2019: Ford “open” to Stage 3 funding

Premier Doug Ford, who has come to town to sign the agreement for the provincial portion of Stage 2’s funding, says he is “open” to talking about funds for the city’s planned Stage 3, which would connect the western suburbs to downtown. However, he says, he wants to “get Stage 2 done” first.

March 31, 2019: Third handover deadline missed

RTG misses a third handover deadline, incurring another penalty of $1 million. The delay is largely due to the trains themselves, many of which don’t yet have working computer systems.

June 30, 2019: Another deadline missed

RTG misses a fourth informal deadline to hand over the system. Because this deadline is informal, there will be no penalty levied against it this time.

Summer 2019: Overtime costs at OC Transpo increase by 30 per cent

To permanently avoid the layoffs it had earlier announced, OC Transpo had chosen not to staff new full-time driving positions as they came up; it’s difficult to hire for available positions, because the LRT is imminent. This means OC Transpo can’t fill available shifts. It also pays drivers incentives to work overtime. Councillor Diane Deans asks Manconi about the “exorbitant” incentives, saying that drivers can earn 10 hours pay for three hours of work.

July 27, 2019: Substantial completion announced

Mayor Jim Watson declares the LRT “substantially complete” and says testing will begin shortly.

August 8, 2019: Vehicle-repair issues highlighted

Manconi writes to RTG leaders that “we can all agree things are not going well … The vehicles require attention [repair] more often than they should.” Manconi specifically calls out the unreliability of the vehicles themselves. Although this email shows that the city knows the trains have issues, this information will not be released to the public until late 2021, through an access-to-information request by CBC News.

August 16, 2019: Deadline for test completion missed

RTG can’t hand over the system in time, due to an inability to get to 12 consecutive days of testing without issues, the benchmark that had been set by the city for acceptance.

August 23, 2019: Testing is completed

Watson announces testing is complete and symbolically accepts the LRT 456 days late. Although there were 12 days of testing, those 12 days were not consecutive, representing a shift in the standard for accepting the system.

map of Ottawa showing Stage 2 LRT stations
Stage 2 involved three extensions: south, east, and west. (City of Ottawa: Planning, development, and construction)

September 10, 2019: The city announces it will partially withhold payment

The city announces that it will withhold $59 million from RTG’s final construction payment, reducing it from $202 million to $143 million. This is in line with the city’s estimate of the costs of its delay. The city does this unilaterally, and it’s unclear whether RTG agrees with the assessment. Although the final $1 million late penalty is included in this amount, the previous two penalties assessed are not.

September 12, 2019: Disabled riders raise issues

Disabled riders invited to test the LRT have concerns: for example, they say the card readers are too high, the fare gates won’t open without assistance, and some of the navigation isn’t clear and may be dangerous in a crowd. The city invites them to submit feedback via OC Transpo and says they can ask for help from the “red-vest ambassadors” it has hired to help people learn how to use the train. (The red-vest ambassadors are temporary employees.)

September 14, 2019: The Confederation Line opens

The Confederation Line opens to the public and receives generally positive reviews. Parallel bus service continues to run downtown for several weeks to give people time to get used to the new system. Per the contract, the system is supposed to run with 15 trains, but at launch time, there are only 13.

October 6, 2019: Service changes are rolled out

Parallel bus service ends, and many bus routes are realigned in OC Transpo’s biggest service change to date. Among the changes is the retirement of the popular 95 bus route, which went from Barrhaven to Orleans through downtown and ran both frequently and late. In practical terms, this means that, after getting off the LRT, instead of waiting five minutes for a 95 or other frequent bus route, commuters need to wait up to half an hour for a local route. Some will not have time to transfer between the routes they need.

October 8, 2019: “Door faults” snarl service


A customer at uOttawa station pries open the door of a car in order to make the train, shutting down the train and causing the system to go offline for an hour when other trains can’t be rerouted around the stalled train. There’s chaos at Tunney’s Pasture station as hundreds of people decide to walk to work rather than wait for a train that isn’t coming. Delays mean that commuters can’t catch the connection buses that have replaced the frequent bus routes, making thousands late for work and contributing to overcrowding of the platforms. These “door faults” continue throughout the week. OC Transpo CEO John Manconi pleads with customers not to hold the doors, and Watson angrily tells city staff to “fix this damn door issue already.” Customers report that, with the volume of riders, there is no time to get either on or off the train before the doors shut. The city floats the idea of potentially charging those who hold the doors.

October 10, 2019: Onboard computers create delays

One of the trains’ onboard computers needs to be reset, stopping it for half an hour. Delays due to both the computer systems and the “door faults” continue over the following weeks.

October 18, 2019: OC Transpo makes “tweaks”

OC Transpo says it will make “tweaks” to the LRT system, including adding platform markings that will tell customers where to stand, adding strap hangers that will make it easier for shorter people to hold on, and changing the layout of the platform at Tunney’s Pasture station.

October 24, 2019: Slippery stairs prove hazardous

Several passengers fall after a rainstorm makes the stairs at some LRT stations slippery. Citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert speaks out on Twitter, saying, “Something needs to be done to ensure customer safety.” 

November 1, 2019: Some buses get back on the road

Mayor Watson announces he will temporarily put 40 buses back on the road after 12 consecutive days of delays of a half-hour or more. He also apologizes to commuters.

November 6, 2019: The city withholds payments 

The city announces it will withhold maintenance payments owed to RTG until the trains are working properly. This includes deductions from maintenance payments owed for September and October. (In 2020, the city reveals it has paid $4.5-million, contradicting previous claims it has made.)

November 6, 2019: “We do not have a solution for Blair”

At a question-and-answer session in council, Councillor Laura Dudas, of Innes Ward, praises the sheltered pathways built at Tunney’s Pasture station to “winterize” it and asks whether similar pathways will be built at the eastern terminus, Blair station, which is the transfer point for many commuters travelling to and from her ward. OC Transpo general manager John Manconi says, “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We do not have a solution for Blair,” adding that there is no room for such a pathway and that it would cause tripping hazards. 

November 20, 2019: Fare freeze introduced

The city institutes a three-month transit fare freeze in recognition of the difficulties faced by passengers.

November 2019: Lawsuits filed

Several subcontractors file lawsuits against RTG’s construction arm, OLRT Constructors, alleging that they have not been paid for work they have done on the system and that delays have made them incur costs. The claims total roughly $33 million.

Week of December 10, 2019: Sewer repaired

Reports of a sewage smell at Rideau and Parliament stations, in the downtown tunnel, have been made since the LRT was opened. The city repairs a punctured sewer that is being investigated as a possible cause. Knowledge of the punctured sewer won’t be  made public until November 2019, but it had been known to the construction team for much longer — workers had discovered it during an inspection on August 9.

December 18, 2019: Sewage-smell issues persist

Citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert brings up the smell at a transit-commission meeting, saying that she had smelled the odour that morning, despite the sewer having been fixed. In response, another citizen commissioner, Michael Olsen, speculates that this may be “a gender-equity thing” and says, "It is a scientific fact that women have more developed senses of smell than men do. So I don't know if this is part of it. I'm not saying she smelled something that wasn't there, but I smelled nothing. So I'm not sure what the issue is or if, in fact, there is an issue." Olsen refuses to apologize to Wright-Gilbert until pressed to do so multiple times by chair Allan Hubley and doubles down on the comment, saying that women have a superior sense of smell because they “have more brain cells.”

December 31, 2019: Trains stop on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve revellers are diverted onto replacement buses when two trains are stopped for half an hour. The delay is caused by a buildup of dirt and grit on the top of the trains.

January 16, 2020: System fails

The system is down for 18 hours, its longest delay yet, after an overhead electrical wire breaks and falls onto the tracks. This is the sixth incident involving the power since Christmas.

January 18, 2020: System fails

A snowstorm causes a switch at Blair station to fail, stopping service for half an hour. (The Alstom Citadis Spirit trains used on the Ottawa LRT system are supposed to be designed for Canadian winters.)

January 21, 2020: Trains pulled out of service

Many trains are put out of service because their wheels “are not perfectly round,” according to Manconi. No explanation is provided for why this could be the case. Only eight of 13 trains are running, and replacement buses are put into service.

two trains in snowy weather
OC Transpo light-rail trains pass each other near downtown Ottawa on January 21, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

January 24, 2020: Consulting firm hired

Rideau Transit Group hires experts from a British consulting firm, JBA Corp., to assess the LRT, saying it will implement any resulting recommendations.

February 2020: RTG was paid after all

OC Transpo’s director of operations, Troy Charter, reveals that the city did pay $4.5 million in maintenance payments for September and October, despite having previously said that it hadn’t paid anything.

February 14, 2020: Trains forced out of service

What is thought to be debris falls onto the track, knocking out transponders and taking four trains out of service. Two more trains quickly follow.

February 19, 2020: “Debris” identified

The debris is revealed to be a part that fell off another train.

February 26, 2020: Trains fail

Four trains fail during rush hour due to multiple unrelated causes. Passengers must walk across train tracks to get to safety.

February 27, 2020: Trains fail

Two more trains fail during rush hour. With some of the trains from the previous day still out of service, and others already offline for maintenance, the city is down to seven working trains at one point. An ongoing snowstorm adds to delays.

March 9, 2020: City issues notice of default 

The city issues a formal “notice of default” to Rideau Transit Group; city manager Steve Kanellakos explains that is the first step in allowing the city to potentially break the contract with RTG. The notice gives RTG until March 31 to come up with a plan to fix the LRT issues.

March 9, 2020: More lawsuits filed

Frank Schwenzer, owner of Hardrock Construction, the firm that worked on the LRT tunnel, tells the Ottawa Citizen he has filed a lawsuit against OLRT Constructors, RTG’s construction arm. The three workers who were trapped in the tunnel in 2016 were employees of Schwenzer; after that incident, Schwenzer says, his employees were uncomfortable working at the site unless he was present. (Schwenzer alleges he had warned management about issues with the structural integrity of the site prior to the incident.) He says that the months of delays cost him, that RTG did not pay him for work done, and that he had to deplete his own personal savings in order to make payroll. Eventually, he alleges, he lost his business due to this contract. His total claim is $12.8 million. OLRT files notice of intent to defend against the claim. In its statement of defence, it says that Schwenzer’s company’s work was inadequate, that his firm failed to pay taxes and remittances owed, and that his firm is, in fact, indebted to RTG. RTG seeks $10 million in damages.

March 11, 2020: Ottawa has its first confirmed case of COVID-19

March 16, 2020: RTG issues a public statement

RTG releases a statement criticizing the city for making the notice of default public, calling it “an inexplicable decision to release a self-serving letter” during a public-health crisis. Despite this, it says it is committed to working with the city and its partners to find a solution to the LRT’s problems.

March 17, 2020: State of emergency declared in Ontario

Video released in February 2015 outlining the features of Ottawa's new light-rail vehicle. (City of Ottawa/YouTube)

March 25, 2020: Service levels reduced

OC Transpo reduces service levels by approximately 50 per cent. This is done as a precautionary measure in case of rapid spread of the virus, as well as in response to dropped passenger levels. As part of this move, it reduces the train frequencies, meaning RTG needs to provide fewer trains than were specified in the notice of default.

March 31, 2020: RTG provides an action plan

RTG submits an action plan to council in response to the notice of default. The city does not accept the plan as-is, saying that, in order to end the notice of default, RTG will need to come up with a plan that eliminates the issues with the system seen during the first six months of service. RTG is directed to revise the plan in accordance with this goal. It does not give a timeline as to when this can be completed.

April 6, 2020: City releases report on testing

summary of a city report reveals that testing of the trains in winter situations was done as laboratory simulations, not in real outdoor conditions.

May 2, 2020: North-south Trillium Line shuts down for two years for Stage 2 of construction 

May 21, 2020: Workers injured

Four construction workers are injured when a rebar cage collapses on them at the airport-station construction site, part of the Stage 2 extension.

May 2020: OC Transpo and RTG talk timelines

The LRT shuts down for several periods of planned maintenance. Meanwhile, RTG and OC Transpo bicker about the timeline for fixing the issues raised by the notice of default. OC Transpo wants it done by the end of summer; RTG will not give a firm date but estimates that the work can be done by the end of the year. OC Transpo general manager John Manconi calls this “not acceptable.”

June 2020: OC Transpo makes further service adjustments

Routes that have seen more of a drop in ridership are cut further, while routes that have not — such as those relied upon by essential workers — are restored to something approaching pre-pandemic levels. Masks are now required in all OC Transpo vehicles and stations, including on the LRT.

June 21, 2020: Line is shut down for seven days

The entire line shuts down again for a week of maintenance, in order to “improve service reliability.”

July 2-10, 2020: Cracked wheels discovered

Several trains are taken out of service after cracked wheels are found over a period of a few days; only seven trains can run. (The system’s full complement is supposed to be 15 trains and two backups; at this time, it generally runs with 13.) The following week, the federal Transportation Safety Board launches an investigation.

Mid-July 2020: OC Transpo’s general manager sends memos

Manconi writes two memos to council: one explaining a problem with computer communications that took the line out of service for a night and another explaining warping on the track. "While the heat related issues are not uncommon on rail networks, the effect on Line 1 is greater than expected and RTG is required to implement a permanent fix to the track,” he says.

August 4, 2020: RTG delivers the trains

RTG meets a deadline to provide all the trains contracted to the city: 15 trains and two backups. However, because some trains are still out of service from the cracked-wheel issue, the line still only runs 13 trains at any given time.

August 19, 2020: Ottawa withholds payments

Manconi says that the city is withholding approximately $40 million in payments from RTG due to deficiencies in service and that there are ongoing disputes between the parties about how to resolve this.

December 15, 2020: Interim report is released

An interim report from the TSB’s investigation says that the cracked wheels on the train were likely caused by protruding screws. Although only a few wheels were cracked, many have these protruding screws, so the TSB recommends that all wheels be replaced — something OC Transpo says will take place by spring 2021.

May 2021: The city takes on its own insurers

The city sues its own insurers for $361 million due to costs incurred by the 2016 sinkhole: $131 million of this is the city’s own estimate of its losses from the sinkhole, but it is also revealed to the public for the first time that RTG has sued the city for $230 million for its costs from the sinkhole. If RTG were to be successful, the city would then seek to recoup these costs from the insurers. The city also countersues RTG for $131 million.

August 7, 2021: Smoke is spotted

Ottawa Fire Services are called to the train after reports of smoke. The cause: a piece of cloth on the train. There is no damage to the train car.

August 8, 2021: A train derails

A train returning from Tunney’s Pasture station to the service yard derails after an axle comes off the track. No passengers were on board, but the train operator experiences a “rough and unusual ride,” according to a statement by Manconi. The system is subsequently out of service for a week. Replacement buses come into service, and the TSB conducts an onsite investigation.

August 18, 2021: Results of investigation produced 

An RTG investigation shows that 10 trains have the same fault on their axles that caused the derailment and will need repairs. That day and the two days following, several trains stall — in one case, resulting in an hour’s delay.

August 24, 2021: Councillors call for transparency

After an update to council, in which the above issues and the persistent odour at Rideau Station (now thought to be caused by groundwater) are discussed, several city councillors, as well as citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert, speak out about the lack of transparency around the LRT. “I  believe that there is something that we are not being told,” says Catherine McKenney, in a joint radio interview with Diane Deans.

August 26, 2021: Worker injured

A worker at one of the Stage 2 construction sites suffers a serious head injury.

September 19, 2021: Train derails

side view of a derailed train
A derailed OC Transpo O-Train west of Tremblay LRT station in September 20, 2021. (Justin Tang/CP)

A wheel on a train leaves the track; the train enters a station and then travels over a bridge in a derailed state for 400 metres before coming to a stop. No one is injured, but some passengers need to evacuate. The derailment is thought to have been caused by a loose gear box. The Transportation Safety Board begins an investigation, and all trains are taken out of service while OC Transpo looks into the cause. Several city councillors call for a public inquiry. 

September 24, 2021: Ottawa issues a second notice of default

The City of Ottawa issues a second notice of default to Rideau Transit Group; RTG disputes it. In a memo later released to council, the city’s rail-construction director says, “RTG failed to meet the basic performance and service level metrics set out in the project agreement arising out of the derailments and both events led to system unavailability and system reliability.” According to the memo, the city plans to increase its level of oversight of the system and wants RTG to pay the cost.

September 30, 2021: Staff changes at OC Transpo

OC Transpo manager John Manconi retires. He will be replaced by Renée Amilcar.

October 13, 2021: Council holds a special meeting

At a special meeting of city council, Councillor Catherine McKenney proposes a motion to initiate a judicial inquiry into the LRT; it is not voted on. Instead, council votes to have the city auditor investigate the city LRT contract. Council also unanimously votes to look into what it would take to break the contract with RTM. During debate, Watson mutes Councillor Diane Deans (he later apologizes). 

October 19, 2021: A return-to-service plan is released

The plan calls for a partial return to service within the first two weeks of November. The goal is to have seven trains, plus one spare, in service.

October 20, 2021: Riders report issues with bus service

With the train still out of service, buses have been pulled from their regular routes to service the R1 replacement bus line. Riders complain of overcrowding on all routes, unreliable R1 buses, and the cancellation of trips on regular routes. Because the city had previously sold its buses, it cannot put sufficient buses on the roads to cover necessary service. Councillor Catherine McKenney sees an ad for old OC Transpo buses for sale in Missouri. The price works out to $144/bus, and McKenney offers to pay for them personally. Some citizens say they will contribute their own funds. 

November 3, 2021: Ottawa proposes a fare increase

The transit commission tables the 2022 draft budget for OC Transpo. The budget calls for a 2.5 per cent fare increase, which would make Ottawa one of the most expensive cities for transit in the province. Several commissioners question the $625,000 allotted for a marketing campaign encouraging people to use transit following the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget expects transit ridership to increase to 82 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by 2023. (At its highest point in 2021, ridership reached 45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.)

November 4, 2021: Report into derailment released

The TSB releases a report into the September 19 derailment. As first reported by CTV News, the cause was “inconsistent and incomplete maintenance following the August derailment.” The letter states that the derailed car “was repaired and released from a shop only to have a safety-critical component fail and cause a serious accident within five days of its release.” A work order was improperly logged, creating the impression that work had been done when it hadn’t been. 

November 8, 2021: Train cars collide

Two LRT cars collide in the maintenance yard. No one is injured, and the city says that the incident will not have an impact on its return-to-service plan.

November 10, 2021: Motion brought for a judicial inquiry

Councillor McKenney again brings the motion to begin a judicial inquiry into the LRT. The motion is defeated; 12 councillors and the mayor vote against it. 

November 12, 2021: Partial service resumes

The LRT returns to partial service after having been shut down for 54 days.

November 16, 2021: Replacement bus service ends

Ottawa ends replacement bus service for the LRT because of consistent service. Less than two hours after the announcement, service is delayed when a train stops after an operator hears a noise. 

November 17, 2021: Public inquiry announced

The province announces that it will conduct a public inquiry into the LRT project. While it will not have the scope of a judicial inquiry, it will have more powers than the investigation conducted by the city’s auditor general. The provincial government holds back $60 million in funds from the LRT Stage 1, and Ford says he may withhold more from the ongoing Stage 2 project, depending on the results of the investigation. 

December 1, 2021: Ottawa residents get free rides

OC Transpo offers free service for the month of December, in recognition of the difficulties faced by riders while the LRT was out. However, some transit advocates question the intent of a free transit month, as it will be followed by a 2.5 per cent fare increase in 2022, which will be tied to when the line can run a full complement of trains again. 

December 3, 2021: Mayor provides updates

Watson says that the city has not heard from the province regarding the terms of its inquiry but that the city auditor is proceeding with her investigation. 

Agenda segment, November 19, 2021: Tracking Ottawa's light-rail troubles

December 10, 2021: Mayor announces he won’t seek re-election 

Watson releases a statement indicating that he will not run for re-election in 2022. In it, he highlights the LRT as something he is proud of: “The start of this new transportation system was frustrating beyond belief and a massive let down to its users. While we are now seeing an improvement in the reliability of its service, we must continue to hold our partners to account. I truly believe we have turned the corner with much better, reliable and consistent service for the people of Ottawa.” 

December 15, 2021: City announces it is taking RTG to court — again

The city announces that it has gone to court to ask for a judge to confirm a “notice of events of default” in relation to the two recent derailments. If a judge does confirm, this would strengthen the city’s ongoing legal case against RTG.

December 17, 2021: Ontario names commissioner for public inquiry

The province appoints Justice William Hourigan, an appeals-court judge, to head its public inquiry. The commission is expected to deliver a report by the end of August 2022, with the possibility of an extension until the end of November.

December 17, 2021: Stage 2 extensions delayed 

The city’s rail-construction director informs members of council that the north-south Trillium Line extension currently faces a delay of nine months. It is now scheduled for May 2023. The east-west extension will be delayed even longer — “on paper,” its delay is 10 months, but it could run longer than that.

December 22, 2021: City auditor “presses pause”

Nathalie Gougeon, Ottawa’s auditor general, announces she and her team will “press pause” on their internal investigation, citing concerns that it will duplicate work done by the provincial inquiry.

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