Ottawa businesses court LRT bidders

Dozens of local construction firms, labour leaders and tech companies put their products and expertise on display Thursday, vying for work on the city's $2.1-billion light-rail system.

More than 300 people - including roughly 75 representatives from the pre-qualified consortiums bidding to construct the 12.5-kilometre line - attended a trade show at the newly constructed CE Centre on Uplands Drive.

Construction of the planned light-rail line - regarded as the largest infrastructure project in the city's history - is projected to generate 20,000 "person years" of employment, with approximately 80 per cent of the labour coming from Ottawa.

About $3.2 billion of local economic activity is predicted to stem from the LRT project, Mayor Jim Watson said in a speech opening the show.

While the city can't favour bids from local contractors because it would violate trade laws, the event put local businesses in the spotlight and increased their visibility to the bidding teams.

Many companies within the coalitions are from outside Canada, and have never heard of the small businesses before them at the trade show.

One of the local firms in attendance was Hovey Industries Inc., which manufactures railway switch heating technology, essential for cold climates like Ottawa's. When temperatures drop to near freezing, a heating device kicks in with temperatures high enough to melt and evaporate snow and ice.

"It's like a furnace at home, but it puts out 10 times the heat," said operations manager Dario Pagliarello.

The bidding teams have likely never heard of Hovey Industries Inc., but they will need to combat snow and ice on the rails, said president Marco Campagna.

"You wouldn't see this in Europe, but they're going to need a North American solution," he said.

Their switch heating technology is in use across the country, including on railways used by GO Transit in southern Ontario, Calgary and Edmonton Transit.

"It's a relatively niche market," Mr. Campagna added. "We need to elevate our profile so these guys know who we are."

Another local firm vying for attention was SolPowered Energy Corp., which designs and installs solar power systems.

Company officials said the LRT project is required to meet certain environmental and energy efficiency standards, which makes the installation of solar panels atop station roofs an attractive option.

Consortia members circulated the Ottawa booths, gaining contacts and handing out invitations to a "speed dating" event in the afternoon for businesses to pitch to the consortias more privately.

The competing teams are made up of major infrastructure, construction and engineering firms from across the globe, and must submit proposals by July including fixed-price bids to design, build, finance and maintain the LRT line. The city will choose a winner in December.

Construction is set to begin in the first quarter of 2013, with testing of the 13-station line expected to begin in 2017 and the first trains to run in 2018.

The three coalitions include:

Ottawa Transit Partners, led by VINCI Concessions, with ACCIONA Concessions Canada Inc., ACCIONA Infrastructure Canada Inc., Aecon Construction Group Inc., Bombardier Transportation Canada Inc., and VINCI Construction Grands Projets as prime team members.

Rideau Transit Group, led by ACS Infrastructure Canada Inc., with EllisDon Corporation, EllisDon Inc., Dragados Canada Inc., SNC-Lavalin Capital, SNC-Lavalin Constructors (Pacific) Inc., and Veolia Transportation Services Inc. as prime team members.

Rideau Transit Partners, led by Bouygues Travaux Publics S.A., with Brookfield Financial Corp., Fiera Axium Infrastructure Canada LP, Parsons Enterprises Inc., Parsons Canada Ltd., Colas Rail S.A. and Johnson Controls L.P. as prime team members.

The trade show, hosted by the City of Ottawa, the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce and the Ottawa Business Journal, attracted businesses in various sectors including construction, education and training, engineering, government, hospitality, labour, public relations, services and suppliers.

Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Steve Desroches said the city will consider hosting another similar event once the winning bidder has been chosen, but no plans have been made.