When Politicans Play Trains

It is the sad, same old story, when politicians play trains with multi billion dollar transit projects, things go south all too quickly.

In 2018, then mayoralty candidate, Doug McCallum claimed he was an expert and he could build the Expo Line extension for $1.63 billion. Fast forward to 2022 and the cost for the Expo line extension to Langley is now pushing $5 billion!

The now elected, but somewhat disgraced mayor (due to a pending criminal charge) is now pushing for a 60,00 seat sports area somewhere on the rapid transit line to increase usage.

Fool the public once, why not fool the public again.

The Mayor should read RftV’s previous blog post about the current land rush happening all along the the proposed R/T line. How much will the land cost, if any is available?

It is necessary for a new transit line to have a commissioning period, over several months to ensure a future smooth operation.

Vancouver’s new ALRT system had so many problems it took  years to fix and the rail corrugation problems still plague the system.

In Ottawa, politcal interference played a large part in providing a transit system that did not have all the bugs ironed out and now they are going to pay the price for their arrogance.

It is oh so easy to blame light rail; it is so easy to blame the other guy. What is not so easy is to blame one’s self.

As with most transit projects, politicians assume they are the experts and that they know best.

Ha, ha, ha!

In Vancouver, it is the same but the mainstream media thinks it impolite to blame SkyTrain, so they blame LRT elsewhere, go figure.

ottawa LRT

Everyone else to blame for LRT failures, everyone involved tells inquiry

Ted Raymond, CTV News Ottawa

Ted Raymond CTV News Ottawa Digital Multi-Skilled Journalist

Published Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The written closing submissions in the province’s public inquiry into Stage 1 of Ottawa’s light rail transit project are a summary of the finger-pointing seen and heard during the live testimony in June and July.

The inquiry posted the final closing submissions from nine involved parties, including the city of Ottawa, the Rideau Transit Group—which built and now maintains the Confederation Line—train manufacturer Alstom, and others.

A common theme that emerged is that the interested parties were not at fault, but were instead the victims of the other parties involved.

For example, Alstom said in its closing submission that micromanagement from the city of Ottawa, which Alstom said was inexperienced in major infrastructure development, was to the detriment of the project.

“To make up for this inexperience, the City retained an army of expert consultants to guide them through every aspect of the Project, from design and construction to operations and maintenance. Yet, the City often failed to heed its experts’ advice,” the submission said. “Instead, under extreme public scrutiny in Ottawa, the City was pressured to make short sighted decisions, to ‘act tough’ with its contractor partner, and, ultimately, to put the System into service before it was ready.”

The city, meanwhile, blamed the consortium it contracted to build the LRT system.

Noting several issues that plagued the line since its launch, including door failures, wheel cracks and two significant derailments, the city said all of the blame lies at the feet of the builder.

“RTG’s failures to perform its design, construction and maintenance obligations cannot be blamed on the City. In particular, these failures do not arise from the City’s procurement approach, the structure and content of the Request for Proposals, the adequacy of the Project Agreement, the City’s oversight of the Project or any of the other criticisms of the City’s conduct raised by Commission counsel during this Inquiry,” the city’s closing submission said. “None of those matters caused or contributed to the issues that led to the breakdowns and derailments.”

But RTG said the problems that arose when the system launched were “reasonably common problems” for a complex infrastructure project and blamed the impact to transit riders on city officials.

“The problems with the project had an outsized impact on Ottawa’s residents because their municipal government set unrealistic expectations,” RTG said. “Elected officials promised the public a turnkey system and campaigned on delivering it with no delays. When their own advisors warned them that no complex transit system, newly-built and operated, would launch problem-free, the political die was already cast.”

Alstom said its staffing and planning levels were appropriate and it overcame the challenges of building a new supply chain, but also said it was “set up to fail” from the very beginning.

“Unfortunately, Alstom’s maintenance team was set up to fail by circumstances out of its control, including a lack of transparency and information sharing from Ottawa Light Rail Transit Constructors (OLRTC) leading up to and during Revenue Service Availability (RSA), and RTG’s decision to shift the burden of a highly degraded and immature system from OLRTC to RTM and Alstom,” the train builder said.

“The City and RTG’s decision to start Revenue Service before the System was 100% ready presented enormous challenges for RTM and Alstom, as anticipated by RTG.”

The city’s closing submission said it felt at times that the “public sector was on trial” but staff defended their actions during the procurement, launch, and running of the system.

“[T]he City believes that a fair-minded and impartial observer can only come to one conclusion – the City’s conduct, and the conduct of its representatives, is not responsible for the previous and continuing issues facing the LRT,” the city said.

RTG stressed that it was ready to launch, but had issues with its subcontractor, Alstom.

“The Commission heard evidence from many parties that the Confederation Line was safe and ready for service at RSA. RTM was ready to perform its maintenance obligations at RSA,” the consortium wrote.

“Despite RTM’s readiness, it needed to rely on its subcontractor, Alstom. Though the RTG Parties’ constantly pushed Alstom maintenance (and it represented that it was ready for RSA), the reality was that Alstom maintenance was not prepared for RSA.”

Through all of this, the union representing transit operators said the problems with the LRT affected the entire transit system, had a negative impact on customers and, ultimately, on OC Transpo rank and file.

“Residents of Ottawa were promised that the years of disruptions to their roadways and transit networks during the construction of Phase 1 would be worth it because the light rail system would deliver this “safe and reliable” transit service from its inception,” The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 wrote in its closing submission.

“Regrettably, what the evidence has shown over 18 days of testimony and countless exhibits is that not only has the Confederation Line fallen far short of being a reliable form of public transportation, but it has also shown that virtually everyone connected with the project knew this was going to be the reality before the system’s public launch in September of 2019.”

The ATU blamed the public-private partnership model (P3) as inherently flawed.

“The adoption of a public/private partnership (P3) model for the construction and operation of the Confederation Line rather than having OC Transpo operate the system directly (i) unduly fragmented the operations and maintenance of the transit system; (ii) prevented OC Transpo managers from responding to service challenges; and (iii) generally led to a lack of public accountability for the system’s failures.”

The inquiry was called following two derailments in six weeks last summer, the second of which kept the Confederation Line closed for 54 days.

The commissioner leading the public inquiry into Ottawa’s light rail transit system has received a three-month extension to finish the final report, pushing the deadline beyond the Oct. 24 municipal election. Justice William Hourigan will have until Nov. 30, 2022 to submit his final report.

The inquiry originally had a deadline of Aug. 31, which would have enabled a final report to be tabled before the election, but it always included the possibility of an extension.

Mayor Jim Watson is not running for re-election in 2022 and neither are several city councillors.

Eighteen days of public hearings were held at the University of Ottawa from June 13 to July 7, with 41 witnesses testifying. The commission also conducted formal interviews with dozens of witnesses, hosted an expert panel on public-private partnerships, and received more than 550,000 documents related to the LRT system.


2 Responses to “When Politicans Play Trains”
  1. Roger Nathan says:

    There is confusion over the Langley Extension cost. T&UT 1017 p349 has 3.95B, while estimates in the blog are much higher at $4.5 to $5B. This might be worth a fresh comment in the blog. Is anyone owning up to the need to refurbish the Expo line and its costs?

    Also in today’s news, it looks like MK V Skytrain branded cars are going to be built in QC. “The 205 new cars (our largest order ever) will allow us to retire older trains, enhance fleet quality, and keep service reliable for customers.” Perhaps Alsthom saw a good business case. https://buzzer.translink.ca/2022/08/next-generation-of-skytrain-cars-take-shape/.

    Zwei replies: So much misinformation. If you have been reading the blog, the current cost for the guideway is in 2022 dollars $4 billion, give or take a few million, but the Operations and Maintenance Centre #5 is a separate contract that must be completed before the line opens. The cost of the OMC#5 is between $500 million and one billion dollars! Thus the total cost of the Expo Line extension to Langley is now estimated to be somewhere North of $4.5 billion and possibly as high $5 billion.

    We are now in an era of high inflation and with cement increasing 2 to 3 times the rate of inflation, be prepared for a higher guideway coast.

    The MK.5 cars (TransLink’s designation as the cars are to run in 5 car formations) are to replace the MK.1 fleet as those cars are wearing out fast. As the last named (the 6th renaming) Movia automatic Light Metro Cars are proprietary, only Alstom produces them thus it is no surprise that they are building them. Business case has nothing to do with it, if TransLink ante’s up the dough, Alstom will build.

    TransLink is quiet on the mid life refurbishment because there is no money for it. TransLink juast let a $1.47 billion contract, which in part, was to install a new ATC system on the Millennium Line.

    As for the name SkyTrain, it is the name of the regional light-metro system and was chosen on a local contest when the Expo Line opened. At the time, the system was called Advanced Light Rail Transit or ALRT. When the millennium Line opened the completely rebuilt the cars were called Advanced Rapid Transit (ART).

    By the way, the name SkyTrain is trademarked by a Brazilian company producing a proprietary transit system that is no relation to MALM.

    As for the Buzzer, it is a company product and only reports news releases as they were real news.

  2. zweisystem says:

    I will post Mr. Cows excellent response to the cost and vehicle issue, from the previous post.

    As for the cost of the Skytrains, to be fair, the $727 Million is for an order of 5 section trainsets that, will replace all Mk. 1 Skytrains, give extra capacity for peak periods or when there are heavy maintenance related, skytrain availability issues (this happens with every railway at some point), provides Skytrains for future extensions like a Millennium line extension to UBC as well as Skytrains for the SLS extension. Thus not all of the $727 Million Skytrain order is needed for the SLS extension

    HOWEVER, the need for not only OMC #4 (currently under construction) and part of the reason for OMC #5 is there because of the need to house these larger, space hogging, very maintenance heavy, 5 car or 5 section Skytrain trainsets.

    The rest of the reasons for OMC #5 is mainly due to the shear distance from any of the existing Skytrain maintenance and storage facilities to Langley. Due to the person-time heavy maintenance of the Skytrain (partly but not entirely because of the LIM propulsion) trains have to be deployed much earlier to get to Langley for the start of service each day, thus putting even more pressure on the existing maintenance schedule. A new yard on the SLS extension not only is handy but now becomes operationally critical. Thus a new facility must be built.

    Unfortunately the automated nature of the whole Skytrain system means that each yard (a.k.a. an operations and maintenance centre) must be a full service yard, not a simple system of light maintenance and storage yards with a centralized heavy yard, which is possible with LRT, and thus, each new Skytrain yard becomes much more expensive. In this case, an estimated cost range of $500 Million to $1 Billion for OMC #5. This why the BC government got nervous and separated the whole project into 2 contracts (the line and the associated OMC #5 yard) because the combined cost becomes really high and politically, very easy to kill.

    The horizon network distance issue is just one of the reasons, why each new horizontal expansion of the Skytrain Network drives up the proportional operating cost of the whole network. I keep pointing out that this is why you can’t run a Skytrain over regional distances, inexpensively. A LRT or mainline railway DMU or EMU type of service is a much simpler, cheaper and operationally easier system to maintain especially, as the horizontal mileage grows higher. That’s why GO Transit in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region needs only 2 heavy maintenance facilities with a fleet of almost 1000 coaches and engines plus, a 500+ km track network. The storage yards don’t have to be physically located with GO Transit’s huge factory like heavy maintenance facilities. Their rail vehicle storage yards and are really quite simple and basic operations especially, when compared to the Skytrain Network.

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