LRT inquiry commission hears more criticism of $2.2B system on last day of public meetings

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“We wanted a good, working system, nothing more, and, if it wasn’t ready, why was it deployed?”

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The LRT inquiry commission received another earful on Thursday night at the Shaw Centre as more citizens highlighted frustrating problems that have dogged the $2.2-billion Confederation Line.

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It was the second and last night of public meetings inviting presentations from the public ahead of the hearings beginning next month.

The provincial inquiry is looking into the circumstances that led to derailments and other breakdowns of the Confederation Line. The inquiry is focusing on Stage 1 of the Ottawa LRT project.

The inquiry commissioner is Justice William Hourigan, who encouraged citizens to tell the inquiry team what it should focus on during its investigation.

The inquiry commissioner is Justice William Hourigan.
The inquiry commissioner is Justice William Hourigan. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

First up was Victor Mitev, who told the commission about his “unpleasant LRT experience” on Oct. 31, 2019, that left him in the rain waiting 40 minutes for bus at Hurdman Station after taking a train from Kent Station.

“At one point that was a regular occurrence, not just a one-off,” Mitev said, adding he felt “cheated” out of the new transit system.

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Dominik Janelle, who’s running for a city council seat in the October municipal election, walked the commission through all the problems since the 2019 launch, expressing disappointment that the LRT system spectacularly failed to be a “shiny beacon of Ottawa.”

“We wanted a good, working system, nothing more, and, if it wasn’t ready, why was it deployed?” Janelle said.

George Lafreniere, who told the commission he used public transit to go everywhere, expressed dismay about the “toxic environment” on city council during LRT debates, dragged down by “animosity” and “dislike” between councillors.

Transport Action Canada’s David Jeanes, who has full standing during the inquiry, which means he’ll be able to cross-examine witnesses, provided a sneak peek of the issues he’s intending to pursue during the hearings.

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There are “serious issues with the original specification by the city,” Jeanes said.

Jeanes offered a few suggestions to fix the system: address sharp curves; provide more track crossovers; add more trains; and increase public scrutiny.

Other citizens questioned the design of the stations and winter operations of the LRT system. Some people touched on issues related to procurement for the Stage 2 O-Train expansion, but the commission’s mandate is constrained to Stage 1.

In all, the commission heard 16 citizen presentations on Thursday night.

Co-lead commission counsel Kate McGrann — the other co-lead counsels are Christine Mainville and John Adair — opened Thursday’s meeting with a presentation about how the public inquiry would work and what observers could expect in the coming months.

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The hearings will begin on June 13 at the University of Ottawa and are scheduled to last until July 8. A report with recommendations is due by Aug. 31, but the provincial minister of transportation could extend the deadline to Nov. 30.

There will be 40-50 key witnesses called at the hearing.

The commission has released a draft list of 40 witnesses expected to be called during the hearings, with several current and former City of Ottawa officials scheduled to provide information under oath.

City council witnesses include Mayor Jim Watson, Coun. Allan Hubley, Coun. Catherine McKenney and Coun. Shawn Menard. Citizen transit commissioner Sarah Gilbert Wright is also on the preliminary list.

Top city staff on the list include city manager Steve Kanellakos, former transportation general manager John Manconi, former treasurer Marian Simulik, former deputy city manager Nancy Schepers and former rail implementation director John Jensen. The current director of rail construction, Michael Morgan, and director of rail operations, Troy Charter, are also on the list.

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Other expected witnesses include officials from the Rideau Transit Group, Alstom, Thales and several consultants who have worked on the Ottawa LRT project, including those from STV, Parsons, Deloitte, Altus Group, SEMP and TUV Rheinland. Officials from Infrastructure Ontario, which provided procurement advice for Stage 1 LRT, are also on the list.

The commission will allow witnesses to provide testimony in person or remotely.

So far, the commission has interviewed more than 90 witnesses under oath and the transcribed interviews will be made available to the public. The commission has also written several information reports on areas of the LRT project that will be made public.

During the hearings, there will be expert panel discussions on public-private partnerships and best practices for large projects.

The website for the inquiry is

[email protected]

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