A guide to the LRT inquiry

We break down every day of the LRT inquiry so you can understand what's happening

Our team at Ottawa Lookout will be summarizing key findings from the commission and analysis by other outlets. Check back here every Monday, Wendesday and Friday for new updates.

For the full list of planned interviews, please visit CityNews.

Day 1: June 13

Who testified Monday: Former rail implementation office director John Jensen and Riccardo Cosentino from RTG.

Key takeaway: According to CBC’s analysis and quotes from the inquiry, Jensen confirmed that the demand for an accelerated launch schedule was coming from Mayor and council.

  • Go deeper: CBC reporter Kate Porter has a long Twitter thread that goes into much more detail about the first day.

Day 2: June 14

Who testified: Former city treasurer Marian Simulik and Rob Pattison from Infrastructure Ontario.

Key takeaways: The city did not account for inflation and other big costs, including construction, that increased the budget by $400 million and $177 million respectively, according to CTV’s reporting on the inquiry.

  • Asked whether there were discussions as to whether the budget might not be enough, Simulik said “I don’t remember any discussion of it being insufficient.”

Problems flagged: According to CBC reporter Kate Porter, commission lawyer Grisdale asked if Infrastructure Ontario’s Rob Pattison had raised the fact that procurement of the trains might be impacted by the strict budget of $2.1 billion. Pattison said it was likely he raised it with former rail director Jensen.

Background: For a deeper understanding of how we got to this situation, read the Narwhal’s deep-dive into how the LRT project went off the rails.

Day 3: June 15

Who testified Wednesday: John Traianopoulos from Infrastructure Ontario and former deputy city manager Nancy Schepers.

Background: CBC reported that the major line of questioning for Schepers focused on the $2.1-billion price tag for the project set early on as an estimate. Schepers noted it could go higher or lower by 25 percent. But Watson and other members of council took that number and ran with it.

  • Remember: Tuesday’s testimony centred on how the price cap on the project could’ve caused companies to, as CBC says, “overpromise in order to meet the budget,” causing cost problems down the road.

According to CBC, head of the LRT division for Infrastructure Rob Pattison, and many others, expressed concerns that very few groups would bid due to the low $2.1-billion budget.

For more details, follow CBC reporter Kate Porter who’s live-tweeting each day of testimony.

Day 4: June 16

Who testified Thursday: Yves Declercq from Alstom Transport Canada Inc and Manuel Rivaya OLRT Constructors.

What happened: Alstom was on the defensive about the construction of the LRT vehicles, according to CTV.

  • Alstom had to create new trains to deal with Ottawa’s target number of riders per hour of 24,000 people, which caused some of the problems.

According to CTV’s reporting, Declercq said they raised concerns to Ottawa. But the city’s lawyer pointed out Alstom claimed in 2012 they were confident they could deliver the trains even with the complex requirements.

Our analysis: The inquiry is so far suggesting political considerations took a higher priority than budgetary due diligence. Without the inquiry, much of this information would never have been uncovered. One can only imagine how many other projects not just in Ottawa, but at all levels of government, occur like this.

Day 5: June 17

Who testified Friday:

  • Antonio Estrada, CEO of Rideau Transit Group

  • Rupert Holloway, SVP for Construction at SNC-Lavalin, and member of the venture board at OLRT Constructors.

Background: The Ottawa Light Rail Transit Constructors (OLRT-C) is the consortium who oversaw the construction of Line 1. It’s made up of partner groups Dragados Canada, SNC-Lavalin and EllisDon. They hired the designers and subcontractors, Alstom and Thales, who made the vehicles and systems. Here are some of the key takeaways from CBC’s excellent reporting on the inquiry:

  • Delays by the sinkhole created pressure for an unrealistic deadline pushed for by the city, after the consortium reported it would be delayed in handing over the LRT

  • Everyone was aware the new schedule was unlikely to be achieved

  • The relationship between the city and RTG grew worse as timelines weren’t met

Day 6: June 20

Who testified Monday:

  • Remo Bucci of Deloitte

  • Michael Burns of Thales Canada Inc.

No coordination: Rideau Transit Group (RTG) did a poor job of ensuring trains and the signals were working together properly. Two different companies made the trains (Alstom) and the automated signalling system (Thales Canada).

  • RTG, who built and operated the system, were responsible for coordination. But a Thales project manager testified the two were working in separate silos, CBC reported.

Day 7: June 21

Who testified Tuesday:

  • Lowell Goudge of Alstom Transport Canada Inc.

  • Jacques Bergeron of OLRT Construction

Not enough testing: Goudge said problems were inevitable because the trains didn’t get enough running time, according to the Ottawa Citizen. The engineer said the trains started running with known issues.

  • He said they could have been solved before the system opened if there had been more testing.

It’s a bit ironic: We also found out Tuesday, the man in charge of maintenance was actually on the train as it derailed, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Day 8: June 22

Who testified Wednesday:

  • Bertrand Bouteloup of Alstom Transport Canada Inc., which built the trains

  • Thomas Fodor, Mike Palmer, and Jonathan Hulse of the consulting firm Parsons, who advised the city

Out of the loop: The consultants told the inquiry they were skeptical of the planned launch date of the LRT system because of the numerous problems that hadn’t been fixed during testing.

While the system was deemed safe by everyone involved, it was well known there were plenty of reliability issues and maintenance staff were overwhelmed, CBC reported. As the Ottawa Citizen headline put it: “Everyone knew the LRT would have problems out of the gate — except customers.”

Day 9: June 23

Who testified Thursday:

  • Richard Holder, of the rail implementation office at the City of Ottawa

A rail and a prayer: The city knew that the LRT system had numerous problems, and gave it approval anyway, the inquiry heard on its ninth day.

A key manager of the project for the city told the inquest the city thought Rideau Transit Group would be able to sort out the many issues discovered in testing before the system was running at full steam, according to the Ottawa Citizen. The city also agreed to cut short testing on the fly, and lowered the standards required to declare the system complete.

Day 10: June 24

Who testified Friday:

  • Matthew Slade, from OLRT Constructors and Rideau Transit Maintenance

  • Yang Liu, from Alstom Transport Canada Inc.

Pointing the finger: Former head of transportation in the city John Manconi was the one who suggested it should be easier for the LRT to pass initial testing, the project leader at the private sector LRT construction firm told the inquiry.

Matthew Slade, of Ottawa LRT Constructors, said Manconi and other city officials suggested to the train system builder they should use an older version of trial-run requirements that would make it easier for the system to be certified as ready to hand over, according to CBC.

  • In June of 2019, it was decided the LRT was likely to be declared complete and handed over to the city in mid-August of that year.

When numerous problems arose during testing, Slade said they were going to blow past that deadline, it was then the city approached the builders about making the tests easier to pass.

Day 11: June 27

Who testified Monday:

  • Michael Morgan, of the City of Ottawa

  • Brian Guest, consultant with Boxfish and former mayoral advisor

What happened: The big focus on super-consultant Brian Guest’s testimony was about his family. His sister and his brother-in-law were both high up in the city bureaucracy, and were important players.

Guest was also a longtime advisor to former mayor Bob Chiarelli. He also advised Mayor Jim Watson. Guest denied his family and political ties had anything to do with his company getting consulting contracts on the rail project, despite his lack of experience in engineering, procurement, or public-private partnerships, CBC reported.

Problems piling up: The other witness of the day said many of the problems were too small to hold back the launch of the LRT system.

Michael Morgan, who was the director of O-Train construction during Stage 1, said there was no political pressure to get the system running. He said for the first weeks of the LRT where there was parallel bus service, the trains were working fine, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

Day 12: June 28

Who testified Tuesday:

  • Thomas Prendergast, a consultant from STV Inc.

  • John Manconi, former general manager of transportation with the City of Ottawa

Manconi defends private chats: Partway through testing of the LRT city manager Steve Kanellakos told the then-head of the transportation department not to send a memo to council laying out the problems with the LRT. Instead, John Manconi shared updates in a private WhatsApp group with Mayor Watson and head of the transit board Coun. Alan Hubley, CTV reported.

Day 13: June 29

Who testified Wednesday:

  • Peter Lauch, former CEO of Rideau Transit Group

  • Councillors Catherine McKenney, Allan Hubley, and Diane Deans

  • Citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert

Councillors kept in the dark: No one on council who wasn’t a part of it knew about a WhatsApp group with top transit officials, the mayor, and Transit Commission chair Coun. Allan Hubley.

Most of the information shared in that private group chat never trickled down to the rest of council, Deans, McKenney, and Wright-Gilbert all testified. This included information about the severe difficulties the system was having in the early days of testing, CBC reported.

City’s idea to ease testing: The former head of Rideau Transit Group, the private company that runs the LRT, said it was the city’s idea to lower testing standards to make it easier for the system to pass muster. Peter Lauch’s testimony lines up with other witnesses, and contradicts the previous testimony of the city’s head of transportation, John Manconi, CBC reported.

Day 14: June 30

Who testified Thursday:

  • Derek Wynne of SEMP, and Sergio Mammoliti of TUV Rheinland/ISA

  • Mayor Jim Watson

Rough day for the mayor: Jim Watson faced difficult questions about the private WhatsApp group. Why was more information about the LRT difficulties not shared with council? Why was council not notified when the criteria for passing the test were made easier? Again and again, Mayor Watson said council was promised to be informed at the end of testing and not a moment before.

Lookout’s analysis: It was an unsatisfying series of answers to pressing questions on why the public, and council, were kept in the dark about problems with the LRT. Especially when more problems cropped up once the system was launched.

  • For a detailed look at some of the back and forth between Commission lawyer John Adair and Watson, see this story by CTV.

Day 15: July 4

Who testified Monday:

  • Steve Kanellakos the Ottawa city manager

  • Monica Sechiari, independent certifier with Altus Group/IC

What happened: City Manager Steve Kanellakos contradicted the mayor’s testimony last week, saying decisions on what to tell council were his alone, not the group of senior officials in the secret WhatsApp chat revealed at the inquiry, CTV reported.

He also stood by the decision to withhold information from council when LRT testing was going badly, and never telling council the tests were made easier. His justification was that from the start he had promised he would only give council information at the end of the process.

  • Dig deeper: Independent certifier had no input on changing scorecard for LRT trial [CBC]

Day 16: July 5

Who testified Monday:

  • Larry Gaul of STV Inc.

  • Transit director Troy Charter of the City of Ottawa

What happened: Larry Gaul testified that outsourcing maintenance to an outside entity, the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), risked a greater chance of breakdowns, according to Ottawa Citizen's reporting.

  • International comparison: Gaul mentioned that other cities he worked at over 30 years — Dallas and D.C. — managed LRT maintenance themselves instead of outsourcing it, unlike Ottawa which used RTG.

What's on Whatsapp: Over 600 pages of WhatsApp messages were released between the major, Troy Charter and other city transit officials, shedding light on how they dealt with the crisis, according to Ottawa Citizen. It offered a candid look at how city officials communicated about key breakdowns in the system. If you're curious to read the whole chat log, follow this link.