Confederation Line shutdown enters a fourth week as Council prepares to vote on calls for a judicial inquiry

As Ottawa commuters begin a fourth week without light rail transit service, council is set to vote on motions calling for a public inquiry into the LRT system and possibly cancelling the 30-year maintenance contract with Rideau Transit Maintenance.

Council will meet Wednesday on day 23 without O-Train service along Line 1 following the second derailment on the two-year-old system in six weeks.

The Confederation Line has been out of service since Sept. 19, when an LRT car derailed at Tremblay Station, damaging the car, the track, the station platform and LRT infrastructure.

Last week, the TSB said its investigation found the car derailed in the middle of the Tremblay Station north platform, departed in the derailed condition and continued over Riverside Drive before striking a signal mast and switch heater.

Rideau Transit Maintenance said on Sept. 20 the LRT system would be out of service at least three weeks while repairs were made. As of Friday, there was no update on when service would resume.

OC Transpo's R1 replacement bus service continues to run along the Confederation Line. Some OC Transpo bus trips have been cancelled to allow the transit service to shift buses onto the R1 replacement bus service route. 

It was the second derailment involving the light rail transit system in six weeks, following a derailment near Tunney's Pasture on Aug. 8.

CTVNewsOttawa.ca looks at the investigation and the motions that council will vote on this week.

RETURN TO SERVICE?

Experts with Philadelphia-based TRA Inc. arrived in Ottawa on Oct. 4 to begin their preliminary assessment of the return to service plan for the LRT after the derailment.

City Manager Steve Kanellakos says the city hired TRA to conduct an independent review to ensure Rideau Transit Group implements a safe return to service of the Confederation Line.

"Public confidence and integrity of the safety of our Light Rail Transit (LRT) system is of utmost priority," said Kanellakos in a memo to council on Oct. 4. "The City will not accept the return to service for the O-Train Confederation Line 1 until TRA completes their review and provides its recommendation to the City for consideration and acceptance."

Kanellakos also denied social media rumours the Confederation Line would be out of service until mid-February, saying, "There is no indication that (RTG/RTM) didn’t have the necessary parts and/or materials to complete the infrastructure repairs."

Transit Commission chair Allan Hubley told CTV Morning Live last Thursday he believed it would be weeks, not months, until the system is repaired.

A motion at the finance and economic development committee last week said the city reviewed RTG's purported plan and schedule to resume LRT service, adding it "continues to find both are unsatisfactory under all the circumstances."

CALLS FOR A JUDICIAL INQUIRY

The state of Ottawa's light rail transit system and the city's relationship with Rideau Transit Group/Rideau Transit Maintenance will dominate Wednesday's council meeting.

A motion from coun. Catherine McKenney, seconded by coun. Carol Anne Meehan, calls on the city of Ottawa to hold a judicial inquiry into the LRT project.

The Ontario Municipal Act allows council to request that a Superior Court judge investigate possible breaches of trust by a member of council, staff or a person having a contract with the municipality and to look into any matter connected with the good government of the municipality.

In an interview on CTV Morning Live last week, coun. McKenney said Ottawa paid $2.1 billion and "we have a system that is dysfunctional."

"At this point, the public certainly doesn't retrain the confidence that they need in the train system to continue to support it," said McKenney, noting there's been two derailments in six weeks, along with problems with the wheels and other parts of the LRT infrastructure.

"A judicial inquiry at this point, that is public, so that people have paid for this system can have confidence in the fact that we're moving forward with future phases and know what we're doing," said McKenney.

The Somerset councillor says transit riders have questions that only a judicial inquiry could answer.

"Taxpayers have paid $2.1 billion for this system and they want to know what went wrong. What was in that bid, what was in the contract and what were the decisions that were made between then and today that have led us to a place where we don't have a functioning rail system," said McKenney. "And when we do that confidence in the safety of it has been compromised."

In a memo to councillors last week, City Solicitor David White warned a public inquiry could be costly.

"The significant costs and commitment of time and resources associated with a judicial inquiry are factors that warrant careful consideration prior to the invocation of a request pursuant to Section 274 of the Municipal Act, 2001," said White.

"In addition, Council should understand that there are no timelines associated with an inquiry, once it is established."

White notes there are other options available to investigate the LRT contract, including the Integrity Commissioners, Ombudsmen or municipal/provincial Auditors General.

NOTICE OF DISPUTE

Council will also vote on a motion to escalate its legal pressure on the LRT contractor following the two derailments in six weeks.

The finance and economic development committee voted to deliver a 'notice of dispute' to Rideau Transit Group, which could result in more legal fighting. Council must give final approval to the motion.

The ‘notice of dispute’ is essentially the city signalling it’s not satisfied with RTG’s response, and could take more legal action.

"This is RTG's problem to solve and if RTG continues to abdicate its responsibilities the City will need to take the strongest possible actions under the Project Agreement and at law," said a Sept. 24 letter from the city to RTG released on Oct. 5.

RIP UP THE MAINTENANCE CONTRACT WITH RTG

Coun. Diane Deans, seconded by coun. Riley Brockington, will table a motion calling on the city of Ottawa to explore cancelling the 30-year contract with Rideau Transit Maintenance.

A motion will be presented Wednesday to ask the city manager to explore options to terminate the 30-year maintenance contract and bring back a report outlining all implications of early termination.

Deans and Brockington also request the city review options for the future maintenance of the LRT, including the feasibility of developing an in-house maintenance team.

FREE TRANSIT IN DECEMBER

Mayor Jim Watson wants to make public transit free for frustrated riders in December.

Council will vote on a motion from Watson, seconded by coun. Hubley, to offer one full month of no-charge transit service in December.

According to the memo, the $7.2 million cost of no-charge transit would be funded from the anticipated funds from the financial and performance provisions in the Project Agreement with the Rideau Transit Group.

"We say in December because that will also help the retail industry and Christmas shoppers and people who go out to parties and have a drink or two to use the service at no charge," Watson said in an interview with CTV News Ottawa on Sept. 21.