Proposal of LRT soft launch ‘shut down vehemently’ by city

Day ten of public hearings at the inquiry into Ottawa’s light rail transit system heard the option of a soft or partial launch of system was “shut down vehemently.”

Matthew Slade testified in front of the commission remotely Friday morning. He worked with Ottawa Light Rail Transit Constructors (OLRTC) as well as Rideau Transit Maintenance. Slade worked with the light rail project during the time it was nearing completion, underwent testing, and was handed over to the city.

“I would never contemplate opening a rail system without a soft launch,” says Slade.

The commission lawyer Christine Mainville asking him for clarity. Slade answering, “There are just too many moving parts and unknowns, and you can test and test, but until the system is actually being used, you don’t know how it is going to react or on behalf.”

Slade says a soft launch is “best practise” in his experience.

Slade said he pushed for a launch that would include only half of the Confederation Line running, from Blair to uOttawa as an example, or where the trains operate from 8 am to 9 pm

Slade says he raised his concerns about launching the full system on two separate occasions and both times city officials, including former OC Transpo General Manager John Manconi, turned him down.

Slade says only one city official, Tom Predergast, supported his suggestion.

Commission lawyer Christine Mainville asking, “What was the response to that proposal?”

Slade explaining, “It was another flat-out refusal. In fact, we didn’t get another opportunity to even err the level of detail I just presented to you. It was, ‘You have raised this before, and we rejected it then ‘… and it was just shut down so vehemently.”

Slade also testified to the “immense” level of pressure staff were under to not miss deadlines anymore.

“The pressure when you are going through these trials days and it isn’t going well, the level of pressure increases. There was a desire to not miss another RSA date.”

“I would describe it quite simply as political,” says Slade. “The level of attention from the media and the politicians was quite immense, not something I have experienced before.”

Slade also says he was “surprised” to learn of the Sept. 14 public launch day, saying he learned about it during a press conference with Mayor Jim Watson.

Peter Wardle, the city’s lawyer, questioned Slade’s testimony by suggestion pressure, even political pressure if typical in an infrastructure project of this nature. Wardle referencing the Crossrail project in London, England where Slade was involved. Wardle stating that the project had experienced massive delays and media attention.

“The owner on that project, was unhappy with the delays?” asked Wardle.

“Yes,” Slade replied.

Wardle continuing, “Just like the owner on this case was unhappy with delays.”

“Yes,” said Slade.

“I am going to suggest that it is not uncommon to have that kind of pressure on these large infrastructure projects and it is simply a pressure the team has to deal with, isn’t that fair?”

Wardle also suggesting Manconi didn’t want a partial launch because that would mean many transfers on and off the LRT and buses and would cause massive disruptions for riders.

“Didn’t Mr. Manconi (suggest) that it would require multiple transfers for passengers to go from a bus system in the east end, running on an LRT system in a partial loop, then having to go to another bus to get downtown. “

Wardle asking, “The bus schedule had already been highly disrupted because of the construction that had gone over the past four or five years… isn’t that fair?”

“Isn’t it the case that Mr. Manconi turned you down for those reasons,” Wardle asked again.

Slade answering, “I think that is what I have stated yes.”

The public hearings will continue next week, and the commission will hear from former Manconi, a group of city councillors, and Mayor Watson.

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