Mayor Watson says city staff 'satisfied' LRT system was substantially complete and ready for launch
Mayor Jim Watson says city staff gave the green light for the city of Ottawa to launch the $2.1 billion light rail transit system in the summer of 2019.
The Ottawa Light Rail Transit Public Inquiry released the transcripts of 87 witness interviews on Friday ahead of the start of public hearings on Monday. The commission spoke with several officials from the city of Ottawa, Rideau Transit Group, Rideau Transit Maintenance and Alstom.
During his three hours of testimony and opening statements on April 28, Watson said he had concerns with the construction delays and the restarts during pre-launch testing, but staff "were satisfied" they could accept the system as "substantially complete and start revenue service."
"Ultimately, when they came to me with the final decision that they were ready to go with RSA I think in August of that year, I wanted to make sure that – a hundred per cent sure that they were satisfied that the system we were getting was going to be safe and secure and reliable," Watson said. "Staff assured me that was the case."
Watson told the inquiry he was "not an expert in running a train system", and relied on the professional expertise of staff and consultants during the construction and launch of the system.
Ottawa's LRT system was handed over to the city on Aug. 30, 2019, and launched for the public on Sept. 14.
Former OC Transpo general manager John Manconi told the commission that all the issues with the LRT system did not occur during trial running.
Manconi oversaw the launch of the Confederation Line. The commission's lawyer asked Manconi if any of the city's experts raised concerns with him heading into the launch about the demands on the Rideau Transit Maintenance team and their ability to meet the demands.
"Again, there was a general concern about consistency and the ability to manage the system and run it and maintain it," Manconi said during his interview on May 2. "But in terms of the competing demands about they are building trains and maintaining trains, none that I recollect in terms of it being a major barrier to success."
Manconi told the inquiry the city had a panel of 40 experts to help develop the oversight of the system.
"The City did -- exceeded what it theoretically and technically and contractually could have and should have done," Manconi said. "My view is we have a maintainer that either grossly underestimated or for whatever reason fell short of staying on top of maintaining the integrated system of a complicated railroad."
Former Rideau Transit Group executive Peter Lauch told the commission that RTG had envisioned a soft launch for the system before to build up reliability, but the idea was shot down by Manconi.
"It meant instead of, you know, launching the full fleet of vehicles, a reduced -- sort of a reduced 16 number of vehicles, maybe, you know, even a shorter time," Lauch said.
"You know, instead of running until 1:00 o'clock every morning, maybe pulling it back to 12:00 or even 11:00, just because that would give you more time for maintenance."
Lauch admitted during his interview there was "always pressure" to complete the LRT system. He was asked if there was political pressure to hit the 2019 launch.
"There probably was because I mean, you know, a huge advertising campaign and a lot of commitments, and it is important, you know, the politician doesn't want to lose face," Launch said. "So I mean, that might have led into it, but as I said, I mean, it did not take away from all the peripheral systems, all the support systems. I mean, if we failed the safety issue, if we failed something, we wouldn't have passed."
The public inquiry will hold public hearings from June 13 to July 8 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The hearings will be held at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law, and will be broadcast on Rogers TV.
Forty-one witnesses are scheduled to testify, including Watson, Manconi, city manager Steve Kanellakos and officials from RTM and Alstom.
To read the transcripts, visit the Ottawa LRT Public Inquiry website.