The light rail was launched prematurely “for political and financial reasons”

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The light rail was launched prematurely “for political and financial reasons”

Since entering service, Ottawa's LRT has experienced several issues (archive).< /p>

The final report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Ottawa Light Rail Transit System found that “reliability issues were partly attributable to the fact that the system was released to the public before it was ready. , for political and financial reasons”.

The report of the commissioner responsible for the investigation, Judge William Hourigan, is unequivocal: the network was not reliable when it was put into service to the public, in September 2019.

In her final thoughts, delivered to Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney on Wednesday, the rushed launch resulted in a loss of trust between parties and the public. A phenomenon that the train derailments, which occurred on August 8 and September 19, 2021, then “aggravated”.

Judge William Hourigan (on file)

The judge used the term flagrant to describe certain errors made during the construction and testing of Phase 1 of this light rail, including the cost is $2.1 billion. These errors raise questions about the City's ability to oversee infrastructure projects of this magnitude.

Judge Hourigan agreed that not all problems were foreseeable. But according to him, if the parties had worked together better, while showing leadership, it would have made it possible to better identify these problems, to better anticipate them and to better respond to them.

“Ultimately, the issues that arose with the project were the result of multiple factors, including the use of new vehicles and new relationships, the lack of integration, the decision to commission the network in a rush, insufficient investment in maintenance and several other factors, some of which were beyond the control of the parties.

— Excerpt from the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Ottawa Light Rail Transit System

The report, of more than 730 pages, also highlights how the City of Ottawa, the manufacturers of the light rail system and the Rideau Transit Group (GTR) reacted to the succession of setbacks. They have, according to the judge, adopted a narrow and rigid vision of their responsibilities towards each other and towards the public.

The commissioner however pointed out that the relations between the City and the private consortium have improved, but they need to do more to ensure the public interest is at the heart of everything they do.

In a written statement, the Minister of Transport, Caroline Mulroney, mentioned that she would carefully examine [the report] in the coming days, recalling that it was essential in her view that citizens bet on a good service.

  • On November 17, 2021, the Government of Ontario announces a public inquiry into Ottawa's light rail issues;

  • Commission to investigate supply, delivery and operation under Stage 1 light rail;

  • From June 13 to July 7, more than 40 witnesses are heard, including Jim Watson, then mayor of Ottawa;

  • Last week, we learned that this investigation cost $14.5 million.

The majority of City of Ottawa headliners who were in office on LRT launch day are no longer in office today. Jim Watson announced in December 2021 that he was not running for re-election on October 24.

Earlier this week, the City Manager of the City of Ottawa , Steve Kanellakos, has announced that he is leaving his post with immediate effect, after 38 years of service to the Municipality.

Caroline Mulroney and Jim Watson participated together in the launch of Ottawa's light rail on September 14, 2019 (archives).

The Commission's report also mentions many episodes of lack of communication between the two parties. It is, according to the judge, inadmissible that the GTR and its main subcontractor knowingly gave the City inaccurate information about when they would complete the construction of the light rail.

These leaders do not seem to care that the dissemination of this false information has had a negative impact on the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

In contrast, Judge Hourigan why the city council at the time was not made aware of the lowering of the test criteria, something that allowed the light rail to pass the final phase of its test.

The mere idea that [former OC Transpo CEO John] Manconi and [Steve] Kanellakos could covenant not to disclose essential information to enable advisers to fulfill their obligations under the law nonsense and demonstrates an obvious attempt to legitimize the unjustified concealment of information in a retroactive and dishonest way, can we read in the final report which also skins Jim Watson.

“This finding also has broader significance for other projects undertaken by the City.

— Excerpt from the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Ottawa's Light Rail Transit System

These two flagrant violations undermined the confidence of the public, he said.

Judge William Hourigan issued 103 recommendations to prevent such a scenario from happening again. He suggested that an independent expert be responsible for advising City Council and the Transit Commission of ongoing corrective actions.

He also recommends avoiding setting budgets too early and requires flexibility as cost estimates change during planning.

Participants, whether public or private, must never forget that the infrastructure does not belong to them, but belongs to the population, to whom we must give back accounts.

Light rail derailed September 19, 2021 (on file).

Among other suggestions, it is a question of establishing a clear guideline from the outset, in addition to specifying the actions to be taken in the face of potential problems. For example, the judge recommends prioritizing system integration, establishing security requirements, and hiring an independent security auditor.

Finally, before open the doors to such an important infrastructure project, the entire network would need to be thoroughly tested under conditions designed to mirror those of the utility.

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