City choosing new firm for 'independent' LRT safety review
OTTAWA -- The firm chosen to conduct an independent safety review of the city’s LRT system won’t conduct the review after all in light of questions about its independence.
The city announced Friday that the firm STV Inc. would be hired to conduct an “independent” third-party review of the LRT system, which is shut down after two derailments in six weeks.
But STV provided consulting services during LRT construction, leading critics to suggest their review would not be truly independent.
On Tuesday, city manager Steve Kanellakos said STV would no longer be retained as the independent safety expert.
“While the objectivity and expertise of STV is not in question in any way, I also recognize that public trust related to all aspects of the Confederation Line 1 is low right now,” he said in a memo.
“I do not want any perception challenges to get in the way of residents’ confidence in the findings and verification of the independent reviewer.”
No timeline for LRT to resume
The two-year-old, $2.1-billion-dollar Confederation Line has been out of service since a Sept. 19 derailment near Tremblay Station. No one was injured, but the train, track and rail infrastructure were damaged. It was the second derailment on the line in six weeks.
City officials say the LRT will not return to service until the independent safety review is finished.
Officials said earlier this month that it could be out of service for up to three weeks. But in an interview on Tuesday, Kanellakos said the city doesn’t have a timeline and he can’t predict when service will resume.
“To me, safety doesn’t have a timeline,” he said in an interview. “This thing's not going back and I'm not signing off on its reinstatement until we're satisfied that it’s safe.
“Until we get to the root cause and we figure out what actually happened and what are the things to manage and mitigate and make sure this doesn't happen again, I can't put a prediction on that.”
Searching for new firm
Kanellakos said his memo that STV was not involved in the Confederation Line design and hasn’t provided service to Rideau Transit Group or its subcontractors.
“That said, I believe the confidence and integrity of the safety of our Light Rail Transit system is paramount and that enhancing public trust in that system is and must be as much of a priority for considerations of confidence and integrity as LRT operations,” he said.
The city must now find a new independent firm to conduct the safety review. Kanellakos said that work is underway.
One challenge, he noted, is that there are only so many engineering firms with relevant expertise out there, and many of them were involved in planning and building the project.
“There are very few firms with the necessary expertise that have not been engaged in some aspect of the City’s LRT project,” his memo said.
“We made a short list of other possible firms that are clean and can meet the spirit of the motion of the transit commission,” he added in an interview. “We're now inquiring to see which ones can get here and how fast they can get here.”
The Transit Commission motion, passed last Monday, directed the city to hire an independent expert to confirm the safety of the plan to return the LRT to service.
Transit users on Tuesday expressed frustration at the ongoing LRT outage, saying they were having to build more travel time into their plans.
“It’s just too bad,” rider David Hemings said. “I don't know why the city has got itself into this jam.”
Added rider Daniel Seminario: “It's making it really difficult for us to travel, transport our kids and our groceries.”
Other OC Transpo passengers expressed concerns about the safety of the LRT service when it resumes.
“Now we're wondering is it safe to go on now after several incidents?” said Marie Colonnier. “You're a little bit leery, you know? You're cautious. I might want to see it go awhile before I actually board.”
- with files from Katie Griffin, CTV News Ottawa