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The city’s own consultants are skeptical about the LRT launch date, hear inquiry

Written by Javed Iqbal

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The city of Ottawa’s own consultants on the massive LRT project questioned whether it was wise to open the Confederation Line to the public in mid-September 2019, the public light rail survey heard on Wednesday.

A team of Parsons consultants, who were hired by the city from 2015 to 2019, testified Wednesday afternoon that they felt the trains were not reliable enough and the maintenance staff was too overwhelmed.

Although technically not what the Parsons team was hired to provide the trains and give their advice on the LRT launch date, they told the commission that they shared their views with the city.

In an email dated August 21, 2019, Mike Palmer told his Parsons colleagues that he understood that the test run of the trains was finished the next day.

“Unknown how many days it was in the end – but certainly not 12!” he wrote, referring to the very repeated promise that the Federal Line would run practically perfectly for 12 consecutive days before the city was given the keys.

A number of us are unsure whether there is wisdom given the fragility and signaling of rolling stock.– Mike Palmer, Consultant

“There is supposed to be four weeks of practice for OC Transpo. I think it will potentially be reduced and so I think it will be around September 17,” Palmer wrote.

“A number of us are unsure whether there is wisdom given the fragility of the rolling stock and signaling, but others may comment more on it.”

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The city has set September 14 as the launch date for the Federal Line?

Confederation Line was officially launched on September 14, 2019.

The email also mentions that the equipment to measure the number of trips the trains ran and the kilometers they traveled during the trial did not work the previous week.

When co-adviser Kate McGrann asked if he had shared his opinion on LRT’s preparedness with the city, Palmer said he had.

Two other Parsons consultants – Jonathan Hulse and Thomas Fodor – also testified that they also shared Palmer’s skepticism about the launch goal for LRT.

Maintenance staff ‘overwhelmed’

The study has heard from a number of witnesses that many participants in the LRT project were well aware that the light rail system, although considered safe, had problems with reliability before it was opened to the public.

Fodor, for example, told McGrann that maintenance personnel were “overwhelmed” during the trial period and could not keep up with more problems – a concern that Fodor communicated to the city.

He told the Commission of Inquiry that the Rideau Transit Group and its partners could not get the entire fleet of trains to run at full service during most days of the trial.

“I observed trains coming to the delivery platform, which failed and had to be removed, which delayed other trains from entering. I also observed train faults out on the main line,” he said.

“Basically, the fleet that was supposed to be out there throughout the time frame was rarely, if ever, obtained.”

Testimony in the first eight days of the Ottawa LRT’s public inquiry shows that many parties knew that the Confederation Line had reliability issues prior to launch. (Francis Ferland / CBC)

Ottawa’s own lawyer Peter Wardle pointed out that none of the consultants were actually involved in scoring for the trial.

Wardle also produced two daily reports submitted by Fodor to the city during the trial period, showing that the consultant confirmed that the planned number of trains was “ready for operation.”

But Fodor stood firm.

“It’s two days out of the time I was there,” he told the commission.

“As far as I can remember, most days they could not achieve the fleet that was required. And if they did in the beginning, there were a lot of removals and attempts to replace them with [other] train.”

Fodor also testified that trains that would not have been allowed to run in public service were used for test driving.

Earlier Wednesday, the commission saw a chart showing that at least half a dozen “major events” still took place daily in the last week of testing in August 2019. Another chart showed that there were 211 major events in the week from September 2 to 7 , 2019 – just one week before the Federal Line was opened.

Many of the events were related to the cameras and videos on the trains and the platform or information boards, but others involved braking and power issues.

It was well known by all parties.– Bertrand Bouteloup, Alstom project director

Another of the commission’s co-advisers, Christine Mainville, asked Alstom’s project director Bertrand Bouteloup if it was well known that the revenue service would not be perfect and that there would be incidents.

“Yes, it was well known by all parties,” he said.

Passengers are waiting for the next train during delays after the Confederation Line is fully launched in the fall of 2019. (@ danavaughan001 / Twitter)

Mayor and Manconi make “calculated guess”

In an earlier email dated July 26, 2019, Palmer wrote to his colleagues that he understood that the Confederation Line would be declared largely completed within days.

“My guess is that the city (read Mayor and JM) is taking a calculated guess that the remaining issues can be cleared up through the 12+ days test drive and the 28 days with OC Transpo playing train,” he wrote.

“JM” in emails is former OC Transpo chief John Manconi.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, in the middle, is driving on the Confederation Line along with a number of other city officials, including former GM for transportation John Manconi, left, a few days before the city took possession of the LRT. (Joanne Chianello / CBC)

Palmer – who was, among other things, a TTC director – went on to say that he would probably do the same if he had “absolute clarity” from RTG about the state of the project, but said he was concerned that information was withheld from the city.

He makes it clear that the message is his personal opinion and that he would “appreciate that this email was not shared outside of Parsons.”

Palmer also jokes that he won a $ 100 bet he had with a few colleagues and city colleagues about when the Confederation Line would be finished, but only because he had the latest date.

Wardle, the city’s attorney, suggested the email was just a casual remark, but Palmer disagreed.

“The style may be casual, but it’s a serious message” about the state of the system, he said.

Thursday morning, the commission will hear from Richard Holder, a leader in the city rail office, who was also part of the trial.

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Javed Iqbal

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