Last Saturday was the opening of Ottawa’s first light-rail-transit (LRT) line: to call it a system would be premature. This past week has been its first week-in-use.
The media are all over it, reminding us of the $2.1 billion cost, the construction delay, the 10% of commuters who have longer commutes with the hybrid bus/train system, the tests the train failed, and the ongoing implementation hiccups.
The politicians are likewise all over it, reminding us of the unpredictability of the sinkhole which drove the delay, the 90% of commuters who will have a shorter commute, and our great future when the one line becomes a network/system.
I don’t suppose anyone outside Ottawa cares about our LRT and the reception it’s getting. But you might care about Ken Woods, who reminded me of the human face of these projects in a great interview on CBC Radio’s morning show (embedded in this article).
Woods has been training to be an LRT operator since 2017 and, as he said wryly, wrote some of the testing logs that were made public and interpreted as showing that the LRT was failing. After noting that he understands about access to information, he talked about it being hard to “see your life’s work strewn on the floor like that.” Here’s how he sees it.
The tests that we performed were tests that were designed to fail the equipment. We don’t test things to make them operate properly; we test them to make them fail. It was aggravating to read this stuff in the paper and have people make a judgement on the equipment, on the infrastructure, on the people, based on testing logs that we were exercising to make trains fail. We need to know what the limits are.
I’m fully aware of the lack of civility in our public/political discourse. Ken Woods reminded me that our public discourse can be ignorant, too. What do I know about testing equipment? How many of us know anything about it?
And he reminded me that there are real people behind every initiative: people who actually do care about their work. People who deserve a hearing before I judge.
What will Ken miss in his new job? The interaction with passengers. He says we should wave to the platform cameras: the operators will be watching.