LRT consortium CEO ‘confident’ in March 31 handover, but city transit boss 'highly skeptical'

Ottawa light-rail transit, Jan. 2018. By Saboteurest, via Wikimedia Commons.

The head of the consortium constructing Ottawa’s light-rail transit line said Tuesday he’s “confident” the system will be ready to be handed over to the city on March 31, but the city’s transit boss said he’s skeptical that all work will be completed on time.

Rideau Transit Group CEO Peter Lauch joined the City of Ottawa’s general manager of transportation John Manconi Tuesday morning for a presentation to Ottawa’s finance and economic development committee updating Mayor Jim Watson, city councillors and the public on the status of the Confederation Line.

Although RTG missed the LRT revenue service agreement date twice in 2018, Lauch said he doesn’t “contemplate any other scenario” than handing over the keys to the LRT system on March 31, as the organization had stated earlier this year.

The possibility of a delay still exists, however, and Manconi was blunt about his concerns that RTG will be ready by the end of March.

“I am happy to be wrong, but I am highly skeptical that they’re going to achieve March 31,” he told the committee.

“I am happy to be wrong, but I am highly skeptical that they’re going to achieve March 31.”

Manconi said RTG still has “some work to do” to achieve the LRT’s full fleet count of 15 double trains and four single-vehicle spares. Standards to approve the fleet are high: Trains need to be run through the system and receive a “nearly perfect” rating before they can be signed over to the city, Manconi said.

Some deficiencies in the fleet – issues related to auxiliary power and emergency door releases – have been identified and as such the city has had only eight trains on the line at a time in testing thus far. RTG has assured the city the fleet will be ramped up to its full capacity on schedule.

Once RTG has its fleet in place, it also must conduct 12 consecutive days of end-to-end testing on the line before it can hand over the keys. Minor hiccups in the system won’t require RTG to start the 12 days over, but major inconveniences would mean the clock would be reset. Lauch affirmed he was confident RTG could fulfil the testing requirements before the deadline and said he anticipates tests will begin in the second week of March.

Watson asked Lauch why the city should be confident in RTG’s ability to hit the March 31 date after already missing two deadlines, first from this past May and then the November make-up date. Lauch said as the consortium completes work on elements of the rail system, the likelihood of further delays drops accordingly.

“As we get closer to the finish line, those uncertainties are less and less,” he said.

One of the concerns has been the condition of stations on the line, but Manconi said that work is “virtually complete” on every station from Blair to Tunney’s Pasture. This includes Rideau Station, which was hit hard by the 2016 sinkhole, and Manconi gave credit to RTG for its work there.

The delays have cost the construction consortium. The city fined RTG $1 million for missing the Nov. 2 handover deadline, has been tracking ongoing costs related to the delays and has been withholding milestone payments. If RTG fails to give the city the keys by March 31, another $1-million penalty will be imposed.