Completion of Ottawa’s LRT delayed again; service expected in 2019

Blair station LRT
Blair Station on the Confederation Line. Photo by Ted Simpson.

Ottawa’s light rail system will not be ready by the Nov. 2 handover date and trains aren’t expected to start carrying passengers until 2019, city staff announced Monday morning.

Transit boss John Manconi expressed his frustration to councillors at Monday’s finance and economic development committee. He says he pressed Rideau Transit Group, the consortium developing phase one of Ottawa’s LRT line, to give a status update in recent weeks after the city’s independent assessment showed the system likely wouldn’t be ready for the November date.

RTG requested that certain requirements be removed or altered in revenue service availability, pitching a partial line opening and reducing the 12 days of continuous testing needed before the line goes into public operation. Manconi said he rejected that proposal as it would pass risk on to the city and residents. He also noted that a “soft start” would sully the LRT line’s “important first impression.”

Manconi added that he received a call from RTG late last week pitching a Nov. 30 handover, but his staff views that date as unlikely as well. He told councillors that he does not expect the LRT to be running until the first quarter of 2019.

Numerous issues – including a barebones Rideau Station and trains with missing components – are contributing to the delay. Manconi again cited the 2016 sinkhole as a contributing factor.

This is the second time the LRT handover date has been delayed. The first came in February, when the city and its contractors said the system would not be operational as planned in May. Councillors had received a memo from Manconi’s team as recently as Aug. 30 that reaffirmed RTG would be ready for the Nov. 2 handover.

Manconi said he had to “force” RTG to come to city staff and present their progress earlier this month. He expressed his frustration with the transit developers for not coming forward sooner with their updates.

“I think they want me to flinch and I’m not going to flinch,” he told the committee.

If RTG misses the Nov. 2 handover date, the city will incur additional costs related to keeping OC Transpo buses on the road over the winter. Manconi said these will be taken out of RTG”s milestone payments.

“Those are all costs that we’re going to track and we’re going to add it to the bottom line,” he said.

In response to councillors questions, Manconi noted that progress on the second stage of the LRT should not be affected by this delay.

Manconi reaffirmed his confidence in the structural and operational quality of the LRT line.

“At the end of the day you will have a world-class system,” he said.