City staff stressed ahead of LRT launch, inquiry hears, but rail director denies pressure
The city’s director of rail operations pushed back against claims political pressure led to the LRT being launched before it was ready during the third week of testimony at the public inquiry into the problem-plagued system.
“No, never,” said Michael Morgan in response to questions by city counsel Peter Wardle.
Morgan testified Monday about the rough start to trial running of the trains and about the loss of trust and confidence with Rideau Transit Group (RTG) being able to deliver the system.
“We would look at the state of the stations, the state of the fleet and none of it was ready,” Morgan said. “And so it became this kind of conflict where what we saw on the ground wasn’t matching what they were telling us. And so that was probably the biggest challenge for the project was just the lack of understanding of when the project was going to be finished.”
“How would you describe the city’s confidence at the time of launch of the system?” asked co-lead counsel Christine Mainville. “It was measured,” Morgan replied.
Two days before launch in September 2019, former OC Transpo boss John Manconi texted ‘cancellation of launch is not an option’ asking for plans b c and d after issues persisted.
“I don’t know what caused him to send this note but he’s always planning for a contingency scenario,” Morgan said.
Instances like a 10-hour radio reset and trains late to launch were among the issues prompting Manconi to text earlier that they were “stressing me out. Can you guys tell me if we were in service what would the impact be? Would customers be stuck? Transferring transit? Delays? Etc?"
High-powered consultant Brian Guest also testified Tuesday and was hammered over optics. His company Boxfish was paid around $600,000
“So at the time you got the light rail project contract in 2011, your bother-in law was the chief of staff to Ms. Schepers and your sister was working for Mr. Kirkpatrick?” asked co-lead counsel John Adair.
“That’s correct,” Guest replied.
“And do you agree with me now sir that the circumstances under which you got this contract at least raise some questions about how you came to have the engagement?” Adair countered.
“I don’t. I understand that’s what you’re implying but I don’t think there’s any substance.”
Manconi is set to testify Tuesday afternoon. The commission will also hear from the former CEO of Rideau Transit Group and Mayor Jim Watson later this week.
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