Alstom exec says LRT train manufacturer did not get adequate maintenance access

The penultimate day of the public hearings into Ottawa’s light rail transit system saw some sharp words from the train manufacturer.

Richard France was the Alstom project manufacturer before and during trial running of the Confederation Line Stage 1. He is also overseeing maintenance and warranty of the vehicles.

France suggested the company did not get enough time with the vehicles to make sure they were completely ready for service in 2019.

Prior to trial running, France says Alstom understood their role was to maintain the Citadis Spirit vehicles, which had never been used in North America before.

“Our thinking at the time was we would be able to go out and execute the preventative maintenance and the rising in corrective issues and then we can work with warranty technicians,” he said.

But France says when he arrived on the job around spring of 2019, the system was not in good enough shape.

“We weren’t envisioning that there would be so many deficiencies, and we also thought that there would be a considerable level of support from OLRTC (Ottawa Light Rail Transit Constructors), in supporting the warranty obligation. But what we ended up finding is this day-to-day, 24/7, boots-on-the-ground support from OLRTC wasn’t really there so we had to pick up all these issues.”

France said it was tough for his team to access the vehicles and the infrastructure to get the jobs that were needed done.

“The infrastructure team, when I showed up in June, they were rather frustrated with the inability to get access to the system so they could learn and develop their maintenance expertise,” says France. “It is a pity; we would have liked to have started the maintenance earlier.”

France says his team didn’t have proper access to maintenance facilities before trial running. He says the facility wasn’t available “until incredibly- a very late time. It meant that as we were moving into trail running there was already a very large amount of overdue maintenance.”

“There was already a backlog by the point of trial running,” said France.

The commission was shown an email from on Alstom official to France, it said in part, “We have been asking to be out there for at least a year. We started asking a lot of questions because what we see is not as per our drawing/info and when we ask… we don’t get answers.”

France says he can only speculate as to why Rideau Transit as well as the OLRTC, the construction consortium was “at odds” with Alstom and limited their access. He says, “It is a pity. I think with more level-headed, pragmatic thinking we could have come to an arrangement where we would get the access we needed learn lots and help each other out.”

France says once revenue started, they had to "catch up" on maintenance of vehicles.

The city’s lawyer challenging France’s testimony by saying the city did take maintenance seriously. “Are you aware that as a result of all the failures that happened leading up until March 2020, the city issued a notice of default on RTG?

“It is not the case that the city didn’t care about maintenance or the issues that had arisen; it was working through its contractual agreement with RTG.”