Critics question independence of LRT return-to-service review

·3 min read
Ottawa's light rail network has been offline since last Sunday, when this train derailed near Tremblay station. An international firm has been selected to review any plans to resume service, but two members of the transit commission question the firm's independence. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa's light rail network has been offline since last Sunday, when this train derailed near Tremblay station. An international firm has been selected to review any plans to resume service, but two members of the transit commission question the firm's independence. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

Some public officials are questioning the city's decision to retain STV Inc. to undertake what's been called an "independent and impartial" review of any plans to get the Confederation Line's LRT trains running again.

A train derailed Sept. 19 as it entered Tremblay Station. According to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the train then crossed a bridge near Riverside Drive with 12 passengers on board before coming to a stop.

No one was injured, but the line is still out of service.

The fact STV was involved in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the city's LRT network should disqualify it from reviewing the plans by Rideau Transit Group to resume service, said citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert.

"This is just sort of a further bit of evidence that the city either (a) thinks we're stupid or [that] (b) I don't know how to Google," Wright-Gilbert told CBC News Saturday.

Wright-Gilbert said she wants an end-to-end safety audit of the whole LRT system, and trains shouldn't run until one is completed.

"[The city is] creating a narrative that they're doing everything you're supposed to be doing, that they're bringing in an independent auditor of this return to service plan — when in actuality it took less than 20 minutes for the media to figure out that this company isn't independent whatsoever," she said.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC
Matthew Kupfer/CBC

STV has 'unique' expertise: city

According to the city, STV provided preliminary engineering support that was used to inform cost estimates, staging and development of specifications for the Confederation Line.

"STV has also provided compliance monitoring for the LRT Stage 1 and 2 projects but is not responsible for the design of the system," said city manager Steve Kanellakos in a statement.

The city says it also consulted with Sam Berrada, council's rail regulatory monitoring and compliance officer, prior to making the choice. Berrada is independent from OC Transpo, the city said.

"STV has a series of technical rail experts and vehicle specialists who are able to advise and review on failure modes and provide support for investigations and commissioning plans," Kanellakos said.

"This type of expertise is unique and there are very few firms internationally with the skill set and capacity to undertake this work."

STV didn't respond to CBC's request for an interview on Saturday.

'A boondoggle'

Given the firm oversaw much of the original Confederation Line testing, it should be ineligible to conduct the review, said Coun. Catherine McKenney, also a member of the transit commission.

"They're coming back to make a determination on work that they were supposed to oversee in the first place," said McKenney, who plans to bring a notice of motion to the next council asking for a full public judicial inquiry into the LRT system.

Wright-Gilbert said STV should step aside, allowing the city to find another firm for the review.

"The public doesn't trust OC Transpo. The public doesn't trust city officials. The public doesn't trust RTG," she said.

"They're not going to trust any results coming from a company, STV, that has such a conflict of interest in this entire process. It's a boondoggle."

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