HSR won't operate Hamilton's LRT after all - but city still wants HSR's union involved

After four months of political wrangling, HSR won't operate Hamilton's new light rail transit (LRT) system after all, and the $1 billion project will move full speed ahead.

'If we keep dithering with this darn thing, we’re going to blow it,' says Lloyd Ferguson

Amalgamated Transit Union members rallied this summer for HSR to operate and maintain Hamilton's new LRT system. A city council LRT subcommittee will debate Monday whether the ATU should represent LRT workers. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

After four months of political wrangling, HSR won't operate Hamilton's new light rail transit (LRT) system after all, and the $1 billion project will move full speed ahead.

Hamilton city councillors voted Monday to let Metrolinx continue with its plan to find a private third-party to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system. That's instead of HSR operating LRT, which councillors voted to examine in August.

Councillors do want HSR's union — the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107 — to represent future LRT operators. But Metrolinx is under no obligation to follow that, said city solicitor Nicole Auty at a meeting Monday.

The city will add it to negotiations it's having with Metrolinx now for an operating and maintenance agreement due in the spring.

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"It's like building false hope," said Terry Whitehead, Ward 8 councillor, of the ATU decision. "It's not enforceable."

Eric Tuck, ATU Local 107 president, said it better be. ATU's collective agreement says the union gets to represent workers involved in any significant transit expansion. So if the third party company doesn't use ATU, he said, the union will take legal action against the city and Metrolinx.

In the meantime, though, this means the project will move forward. Metrolinx put its efforts to find the third-party company on hold this year when in August, councillors voted to examine whether HSR could run the system.

Metrolinx already has a short list of potential bidders in hand, said Andrew Hope, the agency's project lead for LRT. Now it can move ahead and issue a request for proposals.

It was Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, who initially pushed for HSR to run LRT. Last week, he and the union came up with a "compromise" motion. A private company can run LRT, he said, as long as ATU represents the workers.

Everyone but Lloyd Ferguson, Ward 12 councillor from Ancaster, voted for Green's ATU motion Monday. 

Ferguson, a construction industry veteran and LRT supporter, said the city needs to stop messing with this project.

"If we keep dithering with this darn thing, we're going to blow it," he said. "We're going to lose a $1 billion investment in our city."

Hope said the project has been delayed, although there have been various factors, including a spring decision to extend the system to Eastgate Square.

By the end of the week, Metrolinx will have purchased 10 properties for LRT, said Paul Johnson, the city's head of LRT. Overall, Metrolinx is in various stages of negotiation for 35 properties.

It was a last-minute conversation for the system, which is due to open in 2024. Council has until Jan. 24 to let Metrolinx know if it wants HSR to run LRT. If Metrolinx doesn't hear back by Jan. 24, the project continues as it has been.

This year, Metrolinx began its search for a company to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system, which will run alternately down King and Main streets from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle.

Aidan Johnson, Ward 1 councillor, introduced motion Monday asking Metrolinx to "cooperate" in making sure LRT workers are unionized. Councillors rejected that 9-6.

The meeting will be followed by a closed-door meeting about Hamilton's ward boundaries.

This month, the Ontario Municipal Board ruled that the city redraw its ward boundaries. Council will discuss whether to appeal.

The meeting is behind closed doors, the agenda says, because of "solicitor-client privilege."

The meetings will be at 9:30 a.m. in the Albion rooms of the Hamilton Convention Centre. CBC Hamilton reporter Samantha Craggs will tweet live. Follow her at @SamCraggsCBC or in the window above.


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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