Expect gripes and new details as light rail public hearings begin

Long-awaited public hearings on Ottawa’s light rail transit (LRT) system begin Monday morning, and documents filed by key players reveal new details about the city’s atypical train design and strained behind-the-scenes relationships .

The decade since the city council decided to accept bids for a new east-west line and tunnel has not gone to plan.

A sinkhole opened up during the digging of the tunnel, the train opened more than 15 months late and a myriad of technical problems stranded passengers before two trains derailed last summer.

Now lawyers for the main parties – including the City of Ottawa, the Rideau Transit Group and train builder Alstom – have laid out their versions of who and what is to blame in opening statements for four weeks of hearings.

Mayor Jim Watson could attend some of the proceedings and was called to testify on June 30, but said last week that the public inquiry was a decision made by the province that the city had to “live with” and he hoped that wouldn’t take anything away. the recent reliability of the Confederation Line.

On the other hand, system builder and maintainer Rideau Transit Group — a consortium of ACS Infrastructure, SNC-Lavalin and Ellis Don — sees the light rail commission’s work as an opportunity for frustrated commuters to to have a “full picture” because under its contract “the city controls what information can be made public”.

Here’s what the opening statements have to say on some key issues.

Train design

The city and Rideau Transit Group (RTG) point the finger at Alstom. The city sees in it an RTG subcontractor who failed to maintain the trains it supplied.

RTG said it didn’t want Alstom trains, but went with them because the city “left no doubt they wanted the Alstom vehicle” during the bidding process for the $2.1 billion contract.

The fact that an Alstom train part caused a derailment last August should prompt the commissioner to consider why Alstom trains were chosen a decade ago, RTG lawyers say.

A worker inspects the sinkhole in June 2016 as concrete is poured to stabilize the area and protect the foundations of nearby buildings on Rideau Street. (Patrick Pilon/Radio Canada)

CBC News reported in 2019 that Ottawa was not getting the proven Citadis train from Alstom as planned, but an all-new model called the Citadis Spirit.

Alstom now explains that no train manufacturer in the world had an existing “off-the-shelf” train to supply to Ottawa. He joined RTG’s bid team late in 2012 and tried to meet the city’s pricing and technical requirements under tight deadlines.

The City of Ottawa wanted a train to accommodate unusually long 120 meter platforms, with a capacity of 24,000 passengers per hour. This was more than double the 10,000 passengers that a light rail vehicle usually carries and which is similar to a metro car, explains Alstom.

“To date, Citadis vehicles traveling on Ottawa’s Confederation Line are the longest [light rail vehicles] operating in North America.”

Why the LRT was launched late

Residents watched Rideau Transit Group miss the original May 2018 delivery date for the new Confederation Line, then miss several more before finally opening to passengers in September 2019.

Outside City of Ottawa lawyers attribute the delay to RTG failing to coordinate the schedules of its subcontractors, particularly train builder Alstom and Thales, who built the computer control system, but not the 2016 sinkhole that engulfed part of Rideau Street.

The city was supposed to have a “limited role” as owner in a public-private partnership and only realized the handover date was no longer “realistic” in 2017, they say.

Crowds of light passengers wait for a train to arrive at Tunney’s Pasture station on October 10, 2019. An on-board computer failed, causing delays to the Ottawa LRT line for a third straight day shortly time after opening the system. (Kate Tenenhouse/CBC)

For Rideau Transit Group, however, the sinkhole had “a significant cascading impact” that delayed work by at least nine months. Additionally, he alleges that “faulty municipal infrastructure in the ground may have caused the sinkhole.”

Alstom, however, said the delay began long before the sinkhole, when the city was “more than a year late in finalizing its design choices” for the train cars, delaying the development of the train by a year. a prototype.

Alstom’s lawyers go on to say that the Ottawa LRT was deemed fit for service too soon.

“All parties knew the system wasn’t ready for the tax department, but the city and RTG went ahead anyway,” they argue.

“Rather than further delay the start of paid service, the city preferred to start the system by September 14, 2019, no matter what.”

“The outcome was predictable,” add Alstom’s lawyers, who argue that it made financial sense for RTG to secure its final construction payment and enter the maintenance period when it could pass the costs on to Alstom. .

Are you missing the debates of the day? Watch them here:

The strained relationship

It’s no secret that the City of Ottawa and the Rideau Transit Group have been battling it out for months – they have multi-million dollar lawsuits in the courts.

In investigative documents, the city blames the consortium, which has a 30-year, $1 billion maintenance contract, for responding to the SLR’s many operational issues in a “short-sighted and ad hoc” manner.

“Essentially, RTG expects to receive full monthly payment for the service while providing skeletal maintenance services,” the city attorneys write. “When RTG exercises, performance improves.”

The Rideau Transit Group, however, presents the City of Ottawa as an “adversarial” and “inflexible” micromanager. The consortium alleges the city claimed a $500,000 maintenance deduction for a broken bathroom mirror.

When the LRT developed issues in the fall of 2019 that stranded users – which RTG says could have spared residents had it had a “soft launch” – RTG lawyers suggested that “the city bowed to political pressure to act ‘tough’.

“The success of a [public-private partnership] The project depends on the parties being true partners,” writes RTG. “At this time, the RTG parties’ relationship with the City is in a difficult state, and it needs to be reset for the residents of Ottawa.

The commission begins hearings on Monday and the public can attend and watch online at 9 o’clock. They continue until July 8 and will hear dozens of witnessesincluding municipal figures and business representatives.

The City of Ottawa is represented by Singleton Urquhart Reynolds Vogel LLP. Rideau Transit Group’s attorneys are Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP, and Alstom’s attorneys are Glaholt Bowles LLP. All are Toronto-based companies.

Everything will be overseen by Commissioner William Hourigan, a judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Ottawa morning7:32Launch of a public inquiry into the SLR

Documents released ahead of a long-awaited public inquiry into Ottawa’s light rail system reveal new details about the city’s atypical train design and strained behind-the-scenes relationships.

Jose P. Rogers