Rapid transit project manager linked to light rail builder

When BC Transit wanted to find out what rapid transit system should be used to connect Victoria to its biggest bedroom community, it assigned the subsidiary of a company specializing in developing light rail to coordinate that work. The project ultimately recommended light rail as the best option, beating out rapid buses or the status quo. But a BC Transit spokesperson has said the subsidiary wasn't involved in the analysis that led to the recommendation, with that work being subcontracted to another firm.

Light rail was the most expensive option under consideration by the Victoria Regional Rapid Transit Project, with a price tag of $950 million. Launched in late 2008 as a partnership between BC Transit, local government and the ministry of transportation and infrastructure, the project included "extensive public consultation" and a "detailed analysis" of those options.

Pacific Liaicon and Associates Inc., a division of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Inc., was tasked with coordinating that project - having won the job of providing such management services for a variety of BC Transit initiatives.

SNC-Lavalin's Website describes itself as specializing in the development of "efficient, cost-effective delivery of rail-based rapid transit projects, particularly light rail, conventional heavy rail and advanced automated systems."

Indeed, a BC Transit backgrounder even touted the connection between the two companies, noting Pacific Liacon personnel have "ready access to SNC-Lavalin expertise" - although that knowledge wasn't tapped into.

As the project manager, Pacific Liaicon's duties included the "identification of options, evaluation and recommendation of vehicle technology for the rapid transit system."

But, according to the BC Transit spokesperson, that duty was subcontracted to another firm - HDR Engineering Inc.

HDR's analysis informed the project steering committee's decision to recommend light rail be used to connect Victoria to Langford. The committee's members included representatives from BC Transit, the capital regional district and the ministry.

Asked about the optics of SNC-Lavalin making a potential future bid to build the recommended light rail system, the spokesperson stressed if the project goes ahead "a fair and open procurement process will be implemented that conforms to the standards of the Province of British Columbia."

Steve Crombie, the communications vice-president for SNC-Lavalin's transportation division, also said, "There's nothing at this point that gives us a competitive advantage in bidding. The work that's been done has simply been a study that HDR Engineering did to say, 'This, in their view, is the best option for moving forward.'"

Noting the study didn't include any hard design or detailed cost information, Mr. Crombie said, "We wouldn't be any further ahead than any other company or consortium that wants to bid on it."

And, in any case, the company has been "in discussions with BC Transit to make sure we're not in a conflict position."

BC Transit and the project's supporters are now looking for the money to lay down the light rail line, with the Victoria Regional Transit Commission having met with Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom on Monday morning to discuss the issue.

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