By Rideau Goulbourn Councillor Scott Moffatt
We are now five months into the LRT era at the City of Ottawa. Needless to say, things have not gone as anticipated. We always knew this was a project for future generations and that there would be growing pains, but the transition to light rail has clearly been far more than that. Let’s take a look at a few of the issues currently at play and provide some information to ensure everyone is up to date.
As you likely know, our rail system is made up of two separate lines; the Confederation Line running from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture and the Trillium Line, which runs from Bayview Station to the South Keys area. The Trillium Line opened in 2001 while the Confederation Line is the new electrified rail line running east-west, which opened in September 2019.
Ever since OC Transpo removed the parallel bus service that ran for the first three weeks of the Confederation Line operations, we have experienced a myriad of issues on that line. While most of the issues are related to our Alston train cars, there have been a few station issues as well. As issues arise, our maintenance contractor for the system works to address the issues as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to provide minimal disruption. Unfortunately, once one issue is seemingly resolved, another entirely difference issue arises. This has clearly been a challenge for the contractor, Rideau Transit Maintenance. As a result, they have brought in external expertise to assist in addressing train issues and are working toward the ultimate goal of stabilizing the network and ensuring reliability.
That stabilization, of course, only relates to Stage 1. While Stage 2 is underway, it will still be a few years before we can extend the Confederation Line to Trim Road, Moodie Drive and Baseline Station. Before that, the Trillium Line will also be extended into Riverside South and the Ottawa Airport. One thing that I have always tried to emphasize is that Stage 1 does not function properly without Stage 2, but you also cannot build Stage 2 without Stage 1. That said, we cannot and will not use that excuse to pardon poor performance of the currently operational Stage 1. We must and we will do better.
An aspect of reliability that has also been an issue is our bus service. While the situation has improved considerably, we were experiencing delays, late buses and missed buses following our transition to light rail. For instance, in Richmond, it was a normal occurrence for the bus to be 5-10 minutes late in the morning. This will cause a cascading effect, especially when we experience delays on the Confederation Line. Reliability of our bus service seems to have stabilized in 2020. I have not received many reports to suggest otherwise but I am always open to feedback. If we do not hear of problems, we cannot fix those problems.
As previously mentioned, Stage 1 only meets its full potential with the addition of Stage 2. If you have not been living under a rock in recent months, you will know that there have been many stories written about our Stage 2 procurement process. It is important to note that Stage 2 includes two separate contracts and construction projects. There is the Confederation Line extension east and west and there is the Trillium Line extension to Riverside South. Both contracts were issues using the same procurement process but only one has been subject to controversy. That one is the smaller of the two contracts, the Trillium Line extension.
I had originally written about the issuance of the Stage 2 contract in a March 2019 column in this paper and then further discussed the SNC Lavalin component in an August 2019 column. Despite recent reports that suggest wrongdoing and new information, those two columns are still relevant and accurate today. Both are available to be read at our website, rideaugoulbourn.ca. The scoring process, the evaluation of the bids and the entire procurement process, itself, was reviewed by the Auditor General and found to be consistent with the approved Council process. Nevertheless, we have also directed a further review to be conducted and we have instructed our Legal Services to release all documents pertaining to the procurement process so the public can be aware of how the decision to issue the contract for the Trillium Line extension was arrived at.
As always, I am pleased to discuss this issue further if you have any specific questions regarding LRT Stages 1 or 2. Heck, we can even discuss Stage 3 if you would like.