10 takeaways from the Ottawa LRT inquiry final report
CTVNewsOttawa.ca looks at ten key takeaways from the Ottawa Light Rail Transit Public Inquiry final report released on Wednesday.
Political pressure to launch the O-Train
The report concludes "considerable" political pressure to begin operation of the Confederation Line caused the city to "rush the system into public service".
Justice William Hourigan, commissioner of the inquiry, says the city agreed to consider the system as having met the Project Agreement's definition of substantial completion, even though significant operating issues remained. He notes that when the city agreed that substantial completion was achieved in 2019, it deferred the resolution of ongoing known problems with the system.
"In my view, the City's decision to agree that substantial completion was achieved was made because the City was intent on moving the project into trial running, whether it was ready or not," the report says.
"The practical result was that the parties pushed out resolving known problems into the period of system operation."
City Manager misleads Council
Commissioner Hourigan says there was a "deliberate effort" by former City Manager Steve Kanellakos to mislead Council on the decision to lower the criteria during testing of the Confederation Line in the summer of 2019.
"As public pressure grew to get the system open for public service, the City and RTG changed the testing criteria to make it easier to pass. That change was covered up when Kanellakos deliberately mislead council in his (Aug. 23, 2019) memorandum," the report said.
"This is not only a serious finding regarding OLRT1, but it also has broader significance for other projects undertaken by the City. Without changes to the information-sharing process and a fundamental shift in the approach of senior City staff, the statutory oversight function of Council will be irreparably compromised."
Hourigan also noted former Mayor Jim Watson did not provide information on the changes to the testing criteria during the trial running to members of council.
"The Mayor's failure to inform Council prevented Council from exercising effective oversight."
Commissioner Hourigan concluded the city "elected to gamble with unproven technology" with the decision to select Alstom's Citadis Spirit Model as the vehicle of choice for the LRT project.
In the report, Hourigan notes the city received advice at the start of the project to use vehicles that had been used successfully in other cities with "similar needs and climatic conditions", which would reduce the "risk of design flaws, delays, and malfunctions, and would minimize the changes of service interruptions."
"Despite this advice and the requirements of the Project Agreement, the City chose to proceed with unproven technology. The vehicle used, Alstom’s Citadis Spirit model, included existing components from other train models but was actually a new custom-built vehicle for this project," the report notes.
"Further, the City’s demands for the vehicle, including a low floor and performance requirements that made the use of an automatic train control system with aggressive acceleration and deceleration rates necessary, among other performance capabilities, pushed the limits of performance for an LRT."
Hourigan says the delivery model chosen by the city, which relied on the private sector to build and maintain the Confederation Line, "left the city with little control over RTG's work."
The report states the P3 model, "resulted in the city avoiding significant financial liability during the construction phase, but it also led to a situation where the parties' attention was diverted to protecting their legal rights instead of opening a reliable LRT."
RTG and Ottawa Light Rail Transit Constructors "knowingly provide inaccurate information"
Commissioner Hourigan says Rideau Transit Group "failed to provide" the city with a reliable LRT system in a timely manner.
"While delays are understandable on any project, what is inexplicable was RTG and OLRT-C's insistence on providing RSA dates to the city that had no realistic hope of achieving," the report notes. "When the city announced these dates, it caused confusion and frustration for the residents of Ottawa, which, in turn, created pressure to open the system."
Hourigan says construction delays are a "strong possibility" in a project of the size and complexity of Ottawa's light rail transit system.
The report notes the most significant delay for the project was the Rideau Street sinkhole in 2016, but also pointed to the Ottawa Light Rail Transit Constructors "failure to integrate its many components and systems" and the Ontario government's rules established in 2008 that require specified amounts of Canadian content in the vehicles, including material and labour.
"While some of these factors were outside the parties' control, it was unconscionable that RTG and OLRT-C would knowingly provide inaccurate information to the City about when the OLRT1 system would be ready for operation."
City reduced number of trains required to launch O-Train
The report says the city "lessened requirements for accepting the system at the Revenue Service Availability" in the summer of 2019.
While the Project Agreement requirement for RSA was having 17 double-cars available for use, the city agreed to amend the agreement to reduce the requirements to 13 double cars. During the inquiry, city of Ottawa witnesses said the decision was based on a September 2018 analysis that showed the anticipated ridership levels did not require the full complement of 17 trains.
"The Commission does not accept that the City’s insistence on 17 double cars available for use changed because of a belief that suddenly formed in August 2019 that the September 2018 analysis had been correct," Hourigan writes.
"Other witnesses from both the City and RTG acknowledged that the change was made because RTG was struggling to get the full 15 trains (plus 2 spares, for a total of 17) on the line.
"The bottom line is that the City reduced the minimum number of double cars because it was intent on getting the system opened."
No soft launch
The commission finds the city "failed to follow best practices" by not implementing a soft launch for the opening of the Confederation Line in September 2019, which would have allowed RTG and OC Transpo to "shake out" the bugs.
OC Transpo ran a parallel bus service for three weeks, and then it ended.
"This resulted in a situation where start-up issues were being worked out during the initial operations period."
"Inadequate maintenance resources"
Hourigan says Rideau Transit Group and its subcontractors "provided inadequate maintenance resources" following the launch of the Confederation Line.
"There were ongoing problems with the system that caused service delays and general system unreliability," the report says.
"The city contributed to this problem by filing hundreds of work orders in the first weeks of operation, many of which were categorized as urgent, to respond to minor issues that would have been largely resolved through regular maintenance."
RTG and OLRT-C work at "cross-purposes"
The report says Rideau Transit Group and the Ottawa Light Rail Transit Contractors "failed to ensure the integration of roles, responsibilities and deliverables" through the construction.
"Further, the arrangements for subcontractors on this project were complex and uncoordinated. At times subcontractors, which had overlapping ownership interests, were working at cross-purposes, which contributed to an overall lack of integration," Hourigan wrote.
Everything was new with the $2.1 billion system
The commission finds the city of Ottawa, Rideau Transit Group and its subcontractors "failed to appreciate and plan" for the delays and reliability issues" associated with a new system with new technology.
"The OLRT1 project was characterized by new relationships, new designs, new facilities and infrastructure, and new undertakings that affected nearly every aspect of the project."
Hourigan notes the city had no experience with an LRT project of "this complexity, or with using a P3 model to deliver a project like this, Alstom had never worked with the Canadian content requirement, and OC Transpo had never previously operated a complex LRT system.
"I do not criticize any of the parties involved in this project for attempting to do something they had not done before. However, the participants fell short in not appreciating the extent to which they were entering uncharted waters and anticipating the issues that would likely arise as a result," Hourigan said.
"They should have planned better for lengthy delays (and informed the public accordingly), understood that reliability problems would arise (and staffed accordingly), and allowed sufficient time for testing and trial running in the context of an unproven vehicle, unproven relationships, and inexperience."
City should retain outside safety advisors
The commission concludes there is still an "ongoing issue with the wheel and track interface that is continuing to cause problems", and the city should retain a safety advisor to report to council.
Kanellakos hired TRA from Philadelphia following the second derailment in September 2021 to oversee Rideau Transit Maintenance and the return-to-service plan. TRA provides safety consulting to transit agencies across North America.
"The Commission recommends that TRA or another competent, independent third party continue monitoring the safety issues and any remedial actions undertaken by the parties to ensure the continued safe operation of the system," Hourigan writes.
"Given the previous failures of senior City staff to honestly communicate critical information to Council, it is recommended that the third party report directly to Council or the Ottawa Transit Commission. At this juncture, nothing less will suffice to regain the public's trust in the OLRT1 system."
- Ottawa LRT report: Read the conclusion of the executive summary
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