The Ottawa Fiasco Updated

Too many cooks spoil the broth and too many politicians spoil transit.

But there is one quote that leaves me puzzled:

The city chose an Alstom train with unproven technology that strained the limits of what an LRT system could do.

Light rail is anything but unproven, as it has been around in one form or another for about 125 years. The Citidis light rail vehicle family, which saw the first vehicles operate in 2006, now has well over 1,800 vehicles in operation in over 67 cities around the world!  Also, the system is not LRT at all, rather a light-metro, with fully automatic operation, which as been around since the late 1960’s! There is nothing unproven at all.

Some historical context.
In September 2009, the City of Ottawa paid Siemens Canada Limited, PCL Constructors Canada Inc., Ottawa LRT Corp. and St. Lawrence Cement Inc. the sum of $36,718,500.00 in order to settle their lawsuit for the wrongful termination of a contract for the design, construction and maintenance of a light rail transit system in Ottawa.
The project consisted of 27 kms of electrified track, 21 specially designed and built vehicles, associated mechanical and electrical equipment and various buildings.  Construction was to begin on October 15, 2006.  The project was a public-private partnership between the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada each agreeing to contribute $200 million in funding.
In October 2006, the Government of Canada announced that its funding contribution was conditional upon receiving a notice of support for the project from the newly elected City Council following the November 2006 municipal election.  Following the municipal election, the newly elected council voted to change the scope of the project.  The Federal and Provincial governments would not guarantee funding for the changed scope.  In response, Ottawa terminated the contract on the basis that the condition precedent of funding from Provincial and Federal government had not been satisfied. The Project Agreement had limitation of liability clauses which purported to cap the plaintiff’s recovery at $2 million.
In June 2007, the plaintiffs commenced an action in Superior Court in Brampton, alleging fundamental breach and breach of the obligation to perform the Project Agreement in good faith. Brampton is the jurisdiction in which the lead plaintiffs were headquartered.  In September 2008, the City of Ottawa’s motion for a change of venue from Brampton to Ottawa was dismissed. In September 2009 a settlement of the action was reached on the basis of a payment of $36, 718,500.00.  Siemens Canada Limited, PCL Constructors and the Ottawa LRT Corp. were represented by McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Dean Novak, Siemens Canada Limited’s Assistant General Counsel, and Douglas Stollery, Q.C. General Counsel of PCL Constructors.

That’s right, Siemens was going to build a 27 km LRT system for $1 billion and a change of government changed  it to a $2.1 billion 12.5 km light metro, using the proven
Alstom Citidis tram.

In the end, what did the inquiry do, except fuel the anti-LRT crowd (who do not know what LRT is) and ruin politcal careers. Will the inquiry improve the delivery of future transit projects or hinder, only time will tell.

 1 Ottawa


‘Egregious violations of public trust': LRT rushed into service, commission finds

‘Deliberate malfeasance is unacceptable in a public project,’ Justice William Hourigan writes in final report


4 Responses to “The Ottawa Fiasco Updated”
  1. Confederationfirst says:

    This is why LRT is bad. Skytrain is so much faster and better. The skytrain lines recreate the former interuban lines of central park and burnaby lake. Canada line should be extended to Steveston to recreate the old lulu island line.

    Zwei replies: you haven’t a clue what you are talking about. Ottawa sent a delegation to Vancouver to compare the MALM system with light rail and found MALM was much more expensive to build, more expensive to maintain and operate; has less capacity and is not very user friendly. By the way MALM has a very poor operating record in the snow and do not forget when the Expo Line first opened in Vancouver BC Transit and the UTDC spent a year working out the bugs.

    As for speed, faster commercial speeds = fewer stations which means longer door to door journeys.

    You illustrate very well how ignorant the Sky?Train lobby is.

  2. Major Hoople says:

    We still shake our heads at how entrenched your SkyTrain lot is.

    Years ago, the UTDC had a tentative contract for a light metro system in Milan, but the vehicles did not meet the rigorous EEC safety protocols. It was found that the cars were rather flimsy and being small, meant they were not designed with the transit customer in mind. The final straw was that the pre production order cars had no end doors for through communication, which meant major safety issues. The order was cancelled in favour of VAL, which we thought was a mistake as well, as modern trams had a greater capacity and were cheaper to operate.

    I believe the cars designed for Milan operate in Vancouver and can be recognized as being “blind” at the end.

    The notion that many still believe that your SkyTrain is better than a tram seem to ignore that no one wants the damned thing. LIM powered trains is a yesterdays model for transit as today, the more flexible the transit system the better it is and with your proprietary railway means nil flexibility!

    There are presently several German cities planning to replace their stand alone metros by purchasing modern trams that can operate universally on the region rail grid.

  3. Tremblay says:

    Lots of people like the skytrain. It is a fast way to travel. The Canada line reduced the travel time to richmond centre from over 1 hour to 25 mins. There is plans to add three new stations, 1 in richmond that is under construction and two more in Vancouver (Langara & QE Park). Each new station will add 1 minute of travel time. It also reduce travel time to White rock. Recently I took the bus/train to whiterock and it took just over 1 hour. Before the canada line was built, it was almost 2 hours. Trains are a big improvement over buses. The new tunnel on highway 99 will have bus lanes to increase travel times. Not part of the skytrain lobby. Just a regular user of all three Skytrain lines.

    Zwei replies: The fact is, a lot more people do not like it and the empty bus seats to South Delta/Surrey is testement to that.

    Again, the actual travel times using the Canada Line increased (you forgot to include transfer times, which can be up to 10 minutes) and again for many using the car is just faster for trips other than to the downtown core.

    One new station is being built and in fact this station was deferred to save costs as the Canada Line was going over budget. There are other deferred stations but they need to be excavated on the subway section, which is hugely expensive. $100 million each was the last quote I saw.

    There are express buses now from South Delta/Surrey, but post Covid they are running almost empty and I would say, the rise of electric cars has dealt a blow to SkyTrain and bus expansion.

    For me, I would rather take a direct bus to downtown Vancouver and not Transfer and a lot of potential customers think as I do. the latest stat I have seen is that transit use has dropped considerably in the region with only the heavily used U-Pass routes regaining former ridership.

  4. Haveacow says:

    Don’t confuse an entire rail vehicle type/class with a failures of governance and out of control private companies that, simply ignored the legal operating agreements they helped create, in favor of wanting higher profits because there financial plan was created by banks and bankers, not their own railway operating experts.

    LRT works just fine, worldwide it massively outsells anything in the Light Metro category offers, including Bombardier/Alstom’s, MALM Transportation System (Movia Automatic Light Metro Transportation System), known as the Skytrain in Vancouver. It’s the Skytrain’s Gadget Bahn operating systems, the simply wrong assumptions about rail operations that this particular light metro system professes and the LIM propulsion system that almost nobody wants, which has become so unpopular with potential clients that Bombardier, now Alstom, doesn’t offer it as a core part of the product but a potential option for the design (Bombardier couldn’t sell it past the early 2000’s). Once New York bought it for the train to New York’s Kennedy Airport and China’s Shanghai, Airport Authority for Shanghai’s main international airport, not to mention the unmitigated disaster in suburban Seoul Korea line to Everland (a rapid transit line to a popular amusement park), no one has purchased this particular LIM technology.

    Only 1 of those 3 projects worked initially. Although the Kennedy Airport Line is now quite popular, locals still want a commuter rail line (Long Island Railroad) and or an MTA subway connection to Kennedy instead. Plus, a similar line to the much improved LaGuardia Airport, which currently has no rail connection and just had its new planned private rail rapid transit line connection cancelled . The whole Kennedy Airport Train project would have collapsed if the Federal government hadn’t stepped in with an emergency Business Development Bank of Canada loan and its project support division. The project’s supporters at Bombardier and SNC Lavlin had no idea how troublesome building anything in New York City actually is.

    The Korean government swore after the conclusion of its court case with Bombardier, they would never by this or any other Bombardier product, ever again.

    Zwei replies: I just heard on the radio the other day, a newly elected civic politicians claiming that SkyTrain was very popular and many new lines are being built, which I think would be news to Alstom!

Leave A Comment