Waving to Ken

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.

The commuters are all over it, happy with some aspects, unhappy with others.

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.


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10 Responses to Waving to Ken

  1. Barbara Carlson says:

    John and I rode the O-train for 2 hours last Tuesday.
    We made a nuisance of ourselves on both Line 1 and Line 2.

    John wore his TRAIN shoes and informed his fellow riders, always getting a laugh and the start of a conversation between strangers! Great fun!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Such fun, to make a nuisance of oneself. I think you and John could start a conversation with a lamp post.

      • Barbara Carlson says:

        It will appear in my new “book” (PDF eventually) called STRANGER TALK. It will be complication of my conversations with strangers, mostly on Fridays downtown (my day off), in no particular order and excerpted from past journal years. What can I say, it keeps me off the streets.

        Who talks to strangers any more? Nobody I have asked. Pity.

        “Sometimes I feel I owe a stranger nothing, and then I feel I owe him everything;
        …because I dismissed him or misunderstood him, because I forgot, for a moment, that his life — like everyone else’s — holds more than I could ever possibly see.”

        Baggage Claims (Harper’s Magazine, September 2019)
        by Leslie Jamison from “Layover Story,” an essay
        from the collection Make It scream, Make It Burn (September 2019, Little, Brown & Co.)

        • Barbara Carlson says:

          autocorrect !!! — it should read compilation (!) of my conversations…

          and, luckily, so far, no complications have occurred.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – My not very rigorous examination of this matter is that Americans are more likely to talk to strangers, and I am more likely to get an enthusiastic response to my initiatives in America than in Canada. Although Canada itself varies widely in this regard . . .

  2. Thank you for illuminating this misinformation parable, Isabel. It’s a reminder to reserve judgement about the introduction of new systems.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Well, all I “know” about the matter is what I heard from Ken, but reserving judgement seems to be a good idea most of the time!

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    Maybe the point is that science is becoming as impenetrable as religious dogma. Ken Woods is right — the purpose of scientific experiment is not to prove that something can be done, but to see if you can make it fail. To see if you can disprove a theory. Only after the failure of countless attempts to disprove relativity, or evolution, or climate change, can you begin to take that theory for granted.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Hmm. I see your analogy, but I’d say Ken was talking about technology, not science as such. But maybe the “test to fail” principle holds in many areas.

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