Trial running takes front seat as Ottawa LRT inquiry nears its end
The 12 days of trial running that Ottawa’s Stage 1 LRT line had to go through has become the focus of the Ottawa Light Rail Transit Public Inquiry as it nears the end of public hearings.
The system was required to undergo 12 days of testing prior to its launch in 2019, but while citizens were told that the system must perform perfectly, it did not meet that goal in the summer of 2019 and launched anyway.
Testimony at the inquiry from several high-profile figures at the city of Ottawa, including Mayor Jim Watson, focused on why the system launched despite what happened during this crucial test.
A scorecard for one of the testing days in 2019 was revealed at the inquiry, which showed how poorly the system tested on specific days of the trial period. On July 31, the card showed a fail at around 73 per cent.
The inquiry also heard how the trial testing was adjusted.
City Manager Steve Kanellakos told the inquiry on Monday that it was fully within the parameters and the ability of the experts to make modifications to the testing criteria, and he defended his decision not to inform council or the transit commission during the testing period.
“I informed council in terms of how and when I would update them and I never received a change of direction as I said earlier,” Kanellakos said. “I was clear what I was going to do and I did what I was going to do. There was never anything from them that was contrary or changed what I was going to do.”
A panel of city councillors and a citizen transit commissioner testified last week that they felt information was being withheld from council and the transit commission, especially after it was revealed at the inquiry that top officials at the city, including Watson, Kanellakos and transit commission chair Coun. Allan Hubley participated in private WhatsApp chats regarding the project, which were not made public.
Not long after the system launched in 2019, it began to experience problems with doors, onboard computer systems, the overhead catenary wires, and later with wheel flats and cracks. The issues culminated in two derailments in the summer of 2021, one of which shut down the line for nearly two full months.
It was these derailments that prompted the Ontario government to order the inquiry. Justice William Hourigan must submit a final report with conclusions and any recommendations on or before Aug. 31. Hourigan may request an extension until the end of November.
Ottawa’s director of transit service delivery and rail operations, Troy Charter, testified Tuesday afternoon about the trial running and other issues.
In a transcript of a previous interview, dated May 3, 2022, co-lead counsel for the inquiry Kate McGrann asked Charter numerous questions about his involvement in the trail running process, how it was developed, and what was changed. Charter said that the trial running review team felt that the changed criteria would still give them enough information to determine if they were prepared to move to revenue service availability.
He said RTG had wanted to set a very high bar to prove the system was ready to launch after months of delays, but the trial running was not going perfectly and the city and RTG wanted to make sure they were using the right criteria.
“There were some really, really good days, and there were some days on which we had some challenges, and I think, you know, those challenging days were anticipated,” he said.
“But at the end of the day, it was one -- it was that both parties agreed that, you know, go with the original criteria, and you know, that original criteria was agreed to in 2017 and gives us a good barometer as to whether or not, you know, the service was fit for service for customers.”
Testimony will continue Wednesday and Thursday with the following individuals.
DAY 17 – July 6
Richard France (Alstom Transport Canada Inc.) – Morning
Brandon Richards (City of Ottawa) – Afternoon
DAY 18 – July 7
Mario Guerra (Rideau Transit Management) – Morning
Nicolas Truchon (Rideau Transit Group) – Afternoon