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Weather, hydro wires cause signal issues at six Ottawa railway crossings

Via Rail says debris on the tracks, hydro wires and frost are to blame for weeks of ongoing signal issues at six railway crossings in Barrhaven.

There were more than a dozen reported incidents where the flashing signals and crossing arms went into fail-safe mode, despite no train being present.

The problems at the crossings at Jockvale, Greenbank, Strandherd, Fallowfield, Woodroffe and the Transitway haven't ended, but have decreased in frequency lately as maintenance crews conduct work.

Officials with Via Rail held a technical briefing for city councillors Friday afternoon. It was the first time officials made themselves available to councillors face-to-face since the issues began.

Via was quick to apologize for the problems.

"All of us at Via Rail are keenly aware that many members of the public and possibly some of you are not happy about the situation and rightly so. Neither are we," said Steve Del Bosco, the interim president and CEO of Via to councillors. "We share your dissatisfaction and we apologize for any inconvenience or concerns it might be causing."

Aaron Brantford, the vice president of engineering and maintenance at RailTerm, the company responsible for track maintenance explained that the signals are sensitive and have been tripping because of a number of reasons, including debris on the tracks.

"It was those occurrences combined with changes in the hydro power loads and everything seemed to happen at that same time," he said. "I believe a substation was cut near Greenbank Road for the construction work that's happening there and loads were re-distributed on other lines and as soon as that redistribution happened, we saw the effects on the signals on the rails," he said.

Occurrences like these happen across Canada every year, but Marc Beaulieu, Chief of Transport and Regional General Manager with Via Rail said what was taking place here was concerning enough for them to worry the signals were being tampered with.

"To be honest with you, we had never witnessed so many incidents in such a short period of time, in such a concentrated area," he said.

Police did launch an investigation into possible tampering, but it was closed last week after police failed to find evidence to support the claim.

Via Rail is taking action to fix the issues, including cleaning out the ballasts, the stones that hold the tracks together.

They've also tweaked some of the crossings.

Mayor Jim Watson said he was pleased Via officials finally came to Ottawa to hold the briefing and answer their questions.

He said, however, it would take some time for Via to earn back the confidence of Ottawa residents.

"Well the confidence will be instilled when the problems are solved, you know?" said Watson. "I don't think anyone is going to be satisfied until we get to a point where we don't have these occurrences literally on a weekly basis and there's no question that Via has not done a great job at communicating."

"They have to do a better job," he said. "I think this is the first step forward and my hope is that we start to see improvement so at the very least we have a situation where people understand that when they cross those tracks on Woodroffe or on Jockvale or on Fallowfield, they have confidence that the signalling system is working."

Via is still awaiting the results of a report due April 30th to determine what further measures they should take and why exactly the issues were happening with such frequency.

They plan to hold a second technical briefing for councillors after they receive the report.

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