'No pressure' to launch light rail, says Ottawa city manager

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“”No pressure” to launch light rail, says Ottawa city manager

Ottawa Light Rail on the Confederation Line in June 2022

The Ottawa Light Rail Transit Inquiry heard from City of Ottawa City Manager Steve Kanellakos on Monday. He maintains that he was not pressured by the mayor or city council officials to expedite the launch of Ottawa's light rail.

The Commission's lead prosecutor, Me John Adair, in particular, asked Mr. Kanellakos why the city council had not been informed of the disastrous results of the tests just before the launch of the light rail, in September 2019.

Trials are a process. […] It is not a question of knowing what happened on a particular day or week. Rather, it is whether the system meets the criteria established by the independent certifier, the independent safety auditor, the engineers of the Rideau Transit Group (RTG) and our own independent engineers, that is, the system was safe enough to go live, Kanellakos explained.

“[Informing councilors] every day would have placed the council in a perilous position. I also didn't let them know when the system was working well. […] This was an evaluation exercise over a period of time, not on a daily basis. […] I am not afraid to give bad news to the municipal council.

—Steve Kanellakos, City Manager of the City of Ottawa

The Commission's lead counsel added that he was confused.

In fact, the system did not pass the tests. He only passed them because the judging criteria had been relaxed, Adair retorted.

I disagree with that comment. The contract allows the parties to change the criteria, Mr. Kanellakos argued. We were perfectly in order with the parameters [of the contract] and the capacities of the experts to make modifications to these criteria.

Mr. Kanellakos assured that the fact that the launch of the light rail had already been delayed for more than a year had not been a factor in the decision to put the train into operation in September. According to his version, everyone at the City of Ottawa had every intention of waiting until the system was fully operational before it welcomed passengers.

Ottawa City Manager Steve Kanellakos (archives)

In the end, I relied on the opinion of the independent certifier and the independent security verifier to give me the certificate attesting to the good functioning of the system and its security, continued Mr. Kanellakos, who hammered home that no compromise had been made on the safety of the light rail system, despite changes to the evaluation criteria.

Yes, we were under pressure. It was embarrassing. But it wasn't going to affect or sway my judgment as to what to do. […] If we had not obtained the approval of the independent certifier and the independent security auditor, we would have gone back to the city council to tell them that we were not going to put the system into service, explained Mr. Kanellakos. We have done this four times before.

The Commission's public hearings continue until Thursday.

With information from Frédéric Pepin

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