Nearly 15 months after the Confederation Line was originally slated to be carrying passengers, Mayor Jim Watson made it official Friday: the east-west LRT route will be ready to roll on Saturday, Sept. 14.
The $2.1-billion project, which runs from Tunney’s Pasture to Blair Station and features 13 stations, has been dogged by a series of delays that have seen the consortium building the Confederation Line, the Rideau Transit Group, repeatedly miss its completion deadlines.
Nonetheless, Watson was in an upbeat mood during Friday afternoon’s announcement at City Hall, where he received the ceremonial key to the train from RTG chief executive Peter Rauch.
“It’s been hard not to smile the last couple of hours,” the mayor said. “This is truly an exciting day for the city of Ottawa.”
Acknowledging that the path to light rail hasn’t always been smooth, Watson thanked residents for their patience, reiterating that the wait for a “world-class” transit system will be worth it.
“It truly is a transformative project that supports sustainable transportation in our city, and it will lead to significant transit-oriented growth and economic development opportunities for our residents,” he told the audience gathered in City Hall’s council chambers.
The consortium led by SNC-Lavalin and ACS Infrastructure still needs to submit some final paperwork before the handover is official, but the city’s director of rail operations, Michael Morgan, said he expects that to happen by Monday.
Once the keys have officially been handed over, the city is expected to make a final $202-million payment to RTG – less about $35 million in costs related to project delays. The consortium has missed four completion deadlines – May 2018, November 2018, March 2019 and August 2019 – and will be fined $1 million for missing each of those dates.
The city will then embark on three weeks of various safety drills, evacuation exercises, rush-hour simulations and other tests designed to ensure the system can handle the thousands of passengers who are expected to ride the rails every hour.
OC Transpo boss John Manconi assured councillors and other audience members that the 12.5-kilometre line will be ready to go on Sept. 14.
“We have every single drill mapped out by day, by hour,” he said. “There’s a whole team and we waste no time. We’re starting that tomorrow morning.”
Testing met city expectations
When asked by Coun. Riley Brockington whether RTG met the widely reported threshold of running the trains for 12 consecutive days “error-free,” Manconi said the consortium met and even exceeded the standards of the contract.
“We set targets of 96 per cent dependability,” he said. “RTG came forward with an even higher standard.”
During a testing phase that began on July 29, Manconi said, the trains posted a 96.7 per cent “availability” rate over a nine-day period as of Aug. 19 – meaning the system incurred no major issues that could compromise its operation or passenger safety. He said that was “in line with the city’s expectations,” adding the trains averaged a 96 per cent success rate over a 12-day period.
Manconi said RTG was allowed up to three “repeat” days for certain issues that didn’t require a full restart on the 12-day clock, and needed two of them. The testing process did have to start over from scratch early on, he conceded.
“RTG started, didn’t do well and we reset them,” Manconi said. “There have been resets throughout the period. That’s why it’s taken the amount of time that it has taken.”
Manconi said the system did not encounter any safety issues that required testing to be restarted, adding he has “no concerns” about whether the trains are safe.
“No transit agency can claim perfection delivering a rail system, and we are no exception,” he said. “But we promise the residents of Ottawa that staff will deliver a safe and dependable system.”
When asked by Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper how the city plans to deal with residents’ complaints about the noise of the trains near Tunney’s Pasture, Manconi said the city has hired a specialist to address the issue.
“Councillor, you have our commitment that we’re doing everything we can to resolve that,” he said.