‘Fatal flaw’: LRT evaluators sought to disqualify SNC-Lavalin’s bid for Trillium Line extension


Newly released documents show the extent of the failings in SNC-Lavalin’s original bid to take on the southern extension of Ottawa’s light-rail transit system, as the technical evaluators sought to disqualify the ultimately successful proponent from continuing through the process.

Reports had already surfaced that contractor SNC-Lavalin, which won the $1.6-billion contract last spring to extend the Trillium Line farther south, did not meet the technical threshold in its bid to construct the next phase of Ottawa’s LRT.

But a memo from Michael Morgan, Ottawa’s director of rail construction, released late Thursday evening contained documents detailing the technical evaluation process for the transit line’s east-west and southern extensions and the extent of SNC-Lavalin’s shortcomings.

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The contractor’s submission was dubbed “generic” and “poorly written” by the five-person evaluation team. The bid was deemed to have factual errors, failed to include key packages of information and contained no details for a signalling and train control system, and SNC-Lavalin planned to staff the project with workers who had “insufficient” experience. The bid also did not, for example, include plans for clearing snow and ice from the tracks in winter.

SNC-Lavalin apparently had not received critical information on the types of trains currently on the Trillium Line from manufacturer Alstom, an oversight the technical evaluators called a “fatal flaw.”

Each of the three construction consortiums vying to extend the Trillium Line as part of the stage two LRT procurement process needed to pass a minimum threshold of 70 per cent on the technical portion of the evaluation. While the other two contenders both scored above 84 per cent on their bids, TransitNext ​– the name SNC-Lavalin was using in its bid ​– received only 63 per cent.

In closing comments, the technical evaluation committee wrote in “unanimous consensus” that SNC-Lavalin should not be allowed to continue in the procurement process. It added that “resolving all of the major issues identified in the submission would be a lengthy and likely impractical process.”

The technical committee’s initial evaluations were then reviewed by the bid evaluation steering committee, which sought to clarify the scoring criteria used throughout the process. Specifically, it looked to highlight points raised in the evaluation that fell outside the scope of the original request for proposals. The identities of all proponents involved in the procurement process were kept confidential at this time, according to Morgan’s memo.

Following the steering committee’s directions, each proponent’s original bids were rescored; while each consortium’s technical grade rose following re-evalution, TransitNext received a score of just 67 per cent – still below the stated minimum.

Despite this, the bid evaluation steering committee and the executive steering committee collectively decided to allow the lowest-scoring proposal to proceed to the financial evaluation stage of the process.

“Both (committees) felt that the use of discretion for the technical evaluations to continue one team through the process was appropriate and is in the best interests of the city and taxpayers,” Morgan wrote in his note.

Each proponent’s final scores were derived from the combined technical and financial evaluations. SNC-Lavalin’s bid had the lowest cost associated with the project, so even though it scored the lowest on the technical scale, the bid was ultimately chosen as the preferred option to extend the Trillium Line.

Morgan wrote in his memo that after TransitNext was chosen as the preferred proponent, the city held a series of meetings with the contractor to remedy the technical shortcomings in the original bid before the choice was presented to city council last February.

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