City retains familiar firm as independent safety expert to assess LRT return-to-service plan

U.S.-based STV is part of a joint venture contracted by the city to provide “preliminary engineering and program management” for the original Confederation Line and the stage 2 build-out.

Author of the article:

Taylor Blewett

Ottawa's LRT system has been shut down since this train derailed last Sunday near Tremblay Station.
Ottawa’s LRT system has been shut down since this train derailed last Sunday near Tremblay Station. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

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The city has named the independent expert who’ll be signing off on the safety of a post-derailment return-to-service plan for the O-Train Confederation Line, and some are questioning just how objective the chosen firm can be, given its past work on the light-rail transit project.

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The city manager, meanwhile, says very few firms are capable of doing the job and the one they’ve selected is an industry leader.

Steve Kanellakos reported Friday that, as per his tasking at last Monday’s transit commission meeting, he’d consulted with council’s LRT regulatory monitor and compliance officer, Sam Berrada, who’s independent from OC Transpo, to identify and retain an independent expert to confirm the safety of Rideau Transit Group’s plan to get trains rolling again.

The entire Confederation Line system is offline for an indeterminate period following a train derailment near Tremblay Station last Sunday that injured no one, but did some damage to system infrastructure. Rideau Transit Maintenance chief executive Mario Guerra told reporters the following day that he thought it would take three weeks to get the entire system running again, “assuming we can convince everyone that it’s safe.”

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It turns out that it’s U.S.-based STV that they’ll have to convince. In his Friday memo, Kanellakos said the city retained the firm based on Berrada’s advice “to undertake the independent and impartial review of the cause, actions, safety plan and return to service” for the Confederation Line. 

The choice has raised eyebrows. According to information on STV’s website, the firm is part of a joint venture that was contracted by the city to provide “preliminary engineering and program management” for the original Confederation Line and the LRT stage 2 build-out.

Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard tweeted out his skepticism Saturday about “how ‘independent’ this will be.”

A close up view of some of the damage done by last weekend’s derailment.
A close up view of some of the damage done by last weekend’s derailment. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

In an emailed statement, Kanellakos told this newspaper that, for the Confederation Line, STV “has provided preliminary engineering support to the city which was used to inform cost estimates, staging and development of specifications.

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“STV has also provided compliance monitoring for the LRT Stage 1 and 2 projects, but is not responsible for the design of the system.”

The firm was selected to conduct the safety review, he said, after “a review of suitable firms and availability” and “based on their industry-leading expertise and experience.

“STV has a series of technical rail experts and vehicle specialists who are able to advise and review on failure modes and provide support for investigations and commissioning plans. This type of expertise is unique and there are very few firms internationally with the skill set and capacity to undertake this work.”

STV will arrive Monday to start its work. Kanellakos said that, once STV has had a chance to get going on a preliminary assessment, council and transit commission will receive an overview of its work plan and estimated timeline to complete the safety review, as commission members requested.

Until the independent expert gives a green light, no trains will run, even with partial service, city transportation services general manager John Manconi said last week.

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