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Everyone but commuters knew Ottawa’s LRT would face problems initially


“There was no secret between them and us.”

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Everyone knew Ottawa’s LRT system wasn’t going to work well from the start — everyone, it seems, except transit customers.

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Other evidence presented at the LRT inquiry on Wednesday pointed to an accepted reality inside the project: The $2.2 billion Confederation Line would have problems from the start.

Day 8 of the investigation began with the Alstom project manager who oversaw the role of the train builder on the Ottawa LRT.

Until the end of 2021, Bertrand Bouteloup supervised Alstom’s SLR projects in Canada, including that of Ottawa.

The consequences of the launch of the LRT system in September 2019 were “well known to all” and there were tensions before the system was transferred to the city, Bouteloup said.

According to Bouteloup’s evidence, Alstom confirmed that the trains met safety requirements for passenger transport, but this did not mean that the LRT system would work perfectly at the start of operations, and it seemed that all stakeholders knew this, including Rideau Transit Group (RTG) and the city.

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However, Bouteloup said the outstanding shortcomings need not block TLR’s move to City.

Reports produced by Alstom tracked the number and type of major “events” on Citadis Spirit trains prior to delivery on August 30, 2019.

During pre-handover testing, between August 3 and August 26, there were 145 events, mostly related to communication systems, such as video recording and passenger information displays. A camera issue was resolved by placing observers on the station platforms.

There were also events related to mechanical brakes, tension and traction, and air supply.

Another report for the period between September 2 and September 7, just before the September 14 opening of the LRT system, recorded 42 events.

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Bouteloup said that ideally he hoped a mature system would only generate a few events per day, but this week in September had between two and 10 daily events.

There was hesitation about the launch process more than a year before the Confederation Line opened to the public.

Bouteloup said Alstom was trying to convince its client in early 2018 to take a “gradual way” to launch the LRT system by gradually increasing the number of trains on the line. The Ottawa Light Rail Transit Builders, RTG’s construction and design arm, wouldn’t have it.

“We would immediately go into full service. This is the response we received,” Bouteloup said.

As a project manager, Bouteloup tried to maintain worker morale while letting managers absorb the stress generated by contract and schedule demands.

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Alstom had found itself at the center of discussions on the LRT project as the public began to speculate about the status of the trains.

“I didn’t want the team to get discouraged,” Bouteloup said.

RTG was contracted to have 15 trains available for peak hour service on opening day, but the number was reduced to 13 trains during the test period before the system was transferred to the city.

The demand on the LRT system posed immediate challenges, even with the reduction in trains needed at the start of operations.

Bouteloup, who oversaw the supply of vehicles to the project, said the company’s maintenance division was aware of the workload ahead after the handover. Alstom is the main maintenance contractor for the LRT system.

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“There were no secrets between them and us,” Bouteloup said.

The Inquiry Commissioner, Judge William Hourigan, also heard testimony on Wednesday from three transit experts who worked on the SLR project as consultants to the city.

Mike Palmer, Jonathan Hulse, and Thomas Fodor of Parsons were engaged by the city to provide advice on the LRT, including in the areas of operational readiness, maintenance readiness, and safety.

All three consultants testified that they knew there would be reliability issues when the SLR system went live.

Hulse said he thought the vehicles were going through a period of “reliability growth” and the testing was not thorough enough.

On the positive side, Palmer said OC Transpo staff learning the ropes of an LRT system under difficult circumstances was “awesome” and excited to get the job done.

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However, the consultants saw red flags with the work of RTG’s contractors, including in systems integration, which the Board of Inquiry heard was a major challenge during the project.

Fodor recalled that he was monitoring maintenance operations from the yard control center during the trial and it was clear that RTG was struggling to keep trains running on the main line. The maintenance crew was overwhelmed with trains returning for repairs.

“We realized, ‘We have a problem,'” Fodor said.

The public can watch the SLR’s Inquiry hearings on video screens in the University of Ottawa’s Fauteux Hall, online at www.ottawalrtpublicinquiry.ca or on Rogers TV (channels 470 in English and 471 in French).

The scheduled witnesses on Thursday are Richard Holder, director of engineering for OC Transpo, who was a manager in the city’s rail construction office, and Monica Sechiari, independent certifier of the Altus Group LRT project.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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