Light Rail

Councillors seeking light rail completion by 2017

Siemens Canada suggests faster timeline

Councillors harangued senior city staff Tuesday over what they characterized as the slow progress of the $2.1-billion light-rail plan and pushed for the new transit system to be completed by 2017 -a full two years ahead of schedule.

Many members of the finance and economic development committee balked at the LRT progress report given by staff that calls for council to receive the contracting strategy in May, the preliminary design work and updated cost estimates in July and the ratification of the federal and provincial contributions of $600,000 each later this year.

That wasn't enough for a number of councillors.

"Four years and three months ago, we kissed off the north-south rail plan and since that time all we have to show for it is two bore holes," Barrhaven Councillor Jan Harder said, referring to the previous light-rail plan cancelled under former mayor Larry O'Brien -a move that left taxpayers on the hook for more than $36 million in a settlement with Siemens Canada, the company that was signed to build the previous rail line.

"This timeline is all about staff maintaining their pay cheques," charged Harder, whose views were echoed by Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson and others.

In addition to wanting to speed up the process, several councillors also wanted to look at the possibility of finishing the first phase of LRT -which is to run from Tunney's Pasture to Blair Road -by 2017.

"As we wait longer, the price goes up as we deal with inflation," Mayor Jim Watson told reporters. The $2.1-billion budget is based on 2009 dollars and doesn't take increasing costs into account.

"If we can move faster and do it in a fiscally responsible fashion, then I'm for that."

This is the first time councillors have mused publicly about this, but it was Siemens that suggested the LRT could be built faster. The conglomerate contacted many councillors late last year to discuss the project and told councillors it believed the new rail system could be running ahead of its scheduled 2019 date.

On Dec. 21, deputy city manager Nancy Schepers wrote councillors a memo in which she said that "an effort to influence decision-making pertaining to the city's procurement process for the project should be referred immediately to the rail implementation office."

John Jensen, the city's director of rail implementation, said the memo was meant to outline the city's procurement process to councillors. (That process only forbids councillors from speaking with companies that might bid on city contracts when the city is officially in a procurement process, which won't start until later this spring for the LRT.) When asked if city managers had met with Siemens, Jensen said that "all of the significant firms" that might bid on the project have been to City Hall to speak with staff "about all aspects of the project."

He also said staff "were very excited that council wants to expedite the process. That's a very good thing." Jensen said staff would report back to councillors in May as to whether the project could be completed earlier without extra costs. An end-date of 2017 would mean the LRT would be operational for Canada's sesquicentennial celebrations (as long as it was done before July).

"It would be nice if the downtown wasn't under significant amounts of construction during that celebration," Cumberland Councillor Stephen Blais said. "And it would frankly be pretty cool to show off this multi-million-dollar train if we ever get off the ground with it."

In the meantime, as previously reported, city staff looks to be shortening the proposed tunnel by onethird, meaning the rail line will come above ground before it reaches the University of Ottawa. Councillor Diane Deans pointed out that if the tunnel -budgeted for about $700 million -is shorter, but the project costs remain the same, then the project is in fact over-budget.

Copyright © 2017 Stephen Blais