Eglinton LRT delays frustrating but project shouldn't be rushed: Ford
TORONTO — The delays behind a light rail transit line in midtown Toronto that's years behind schedule are frustrating, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday, but he doesn't want it rushed lest it become another Ottawa LRT.
The Eglinton Crosstown LRT was originally supposed to open in 2020, but there is no current projected opening date despite it having been under construction for a decade. Phil Verster, CEO of provincial transit agency Metrolinx, said Thursday there are still 260 quality issues that have to be rectified, and the track itself is outside of specifications.
Ford said he told Verster and Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney the crosstown shouldn't open until it is 100 per cent safe.
"I'm not going to pull a Mayor (Jim) Watson in Ottawa, pushing it forward, derailing the LRT in Ottawa, making a total mess of it," he said at an unrelated press conference.
Ottawa's LRT has been plagued with repeated closures and operating problems since the 12.5-kilometre line opened with 13 stations in 2019.
A public inquiry revealed a litany of issues including doors that wouldn't close properly, wheels that became flat after use, and a frustrating inconsistency operating in winter weather. The inquiry also revealed a lack of transparency and accountability about the problems.
Disrupted supply chains during the pandemic have contributed to the delays on the light rail line in Toronto, Mulroney said.
She and Verster also blamed the contractor, Crosslinx Transit Solutions, for the delay.
"We are working closely with Metrolinx to get CTS, who's delivering the project for us, to provide a credible schedule so that we can then let the people of Ontario know when we'll be able to open the system," Mulroney said.
Crosslinx did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
New Democrat Catherine Fife said Mulroney's explanations don't cut it.
"This is a minister who has evaded accountability and transparency questions for so long on this project and literally has passed the buck on the Eglinton Crosstown and the people in this province deserve better," she said.
Verster said many issues have arisen with the project, including the track, which was completed in 2021.
"Despite our urging and our guidance, it's only being rectified now and it will have a two-month impact at least on the completion date," he said.
"If you have track, which was literally millimeters out of specification ... the risk you have is that a train runs and actually climbs up on the track and derails. So the degree of accuracy that we're talking about are literally millimeters, that must be done right."
Testing and commissioning is behind schedule, as is the phase in which CTS engineers certify documentation that work has been done to specification, Verster said.
"We're spending an inordinate amount actively managing and guiding CTS in their delivery. And yes, we want this, we want this project completed. But I gotta say my biggest concern is that the quality is right. And that we get a safe transit system. We are building infrastructure for the next 100 to 150 years. And we've got to get it right."
The project also started behind schedule, Verster said, with initial design work between nine and 18 months delayed.
"Losing 18 months at the beginning of a project is never really recovered thereafter," he said.
One lesson learned is to break contracts into smaller parts because if one entity is responsible for the entire project, there is a greater likelihood of it not succeeding because of the scale, Verster said.
Mulroney said the government is approaching the construction of the Ontario Line transit project in that way.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2023.
Allison Jones and Liam Casey, The Canadian Press