A senior city manager says the consortium building Ottawa’s $2.1-billion light rail transit (LRT) project has hit some “key milestones” over the last two months, but there’s still no word on when exactly public transit riders can expect to board the trains next year.
The Rideau Transit Group (RTG) blew past its second deadline to complete the Confederation LRT line earlier this month; the city was supposed to get the keys to the 13-station system on Nov. 2.
READ MORE: Launch of Ottawa’s LRT delayed until 2019
John Manconi, the city’s transportation manager, told the finance and economic committee on Wednesday morning that he had no new, firm date to give them.
“Our position continues to be that it’s sometime in (the first quarter) of 2019,” he said.
RTG has to provide a revised deadline to the city by Jan. 2, Manconi told Mayor Jim Watson and councillors. He noted OC Transpo will need seven to 10 days beyond the new handover date to get the east-west Confederation train “into launch mode.”
Watson told reporters after the meeting that, based on the progress and testing achieved this fall, he has “great confidence” the train will be in service by Mar. 31, 2019.
“I believe we will make that date, if not exceed it by a few days,” the mayor said.
Whenever it is announced, the next hard date will be the third deadline for the massive transit project that has experienced several construction mishaps and delays.
Manconi said the city continues to monitor the project’s progress closely and is holding out for a “reliable” date that’s “based on technical findings.”
“What we don’t want is another date that we get everybody focused on,” he said. “We’re now meeting … with the executives of that group every week and we’ve said, ‘Give us a date when you can prove and demonstrate that you can get to that date.'”
RTG missed its first deadline in May, for which it wasn’t penalized. Due to the project’s delays this year, Manconi said the city has been withholding a number of incremental payments to the consortium, totalling more than $260 million.
After RTG failed to make the Nov. 2 deadline, the city confirmed it “intends” to levy a penalty of $1 million on its next payment to RTG for the missed target date.
“They’re incentivized to move as quickly and effectively as they can,” Manconi said on Wednesday. “We have all the cash.”
The finance committee learned on Sept. 10 that RTG had told the city it could not meet all of its contractual obligations – including all the necessary safety testing – by Nov. 2.
Up until then, LRT progress reports had indicated the project was on track to be delivered by that date. But councillors learned the city had its doubts and ordered a third-party assessment that reportedly determined that wasn’t the case.
The city then found out that some parts had gone missing, including two “critical” computer modules that need to be installed in the last two of the 34 LRT trains.
Manconi reiterated on Wednesday the city has refused to let RTG take any shortcuts on its contractual obligations and will push to recoup costs incurred as a result of the delay.
LRT trains in ‘test mode’; RTG to run ‘practice plan’
Much of Manconi’s presentation on Wednesday focused on the status of the stations and the testing of the trains.
The LRT trains are on the tracks and running in “test mode,” he said. On Tuesday, six single trains completed about 55 trips between Tunney’s Pasture and Blair station, he reported.
Manconi said RTG has also completed a speed test from end to end.
In addition to all the contractually required testing, Manconi said RTG has decided to undertake a “system-wide practice plan” this month, which will involve running the full LRT fleet from east to west and back again.
The “practice plan” is akin to a “rehearsal,” the transportation manager said, to make sure the LRT system is “doing what it’s intended to do” ahead of the official trial runs.
Manconi said city and OC Transpo personnel are also helping with simulations of bus-to-rail transfers at the three major transfer points: Hurdman, Tunney’s and Blair. The simulations involve “stress-testing” the stations and platforms with mock scenarios like accidents and traffic jams.
Hurdman was tested on Oct. 28 and “performed very, very well,” he said; Tunney’s and Blair are next.
With regards to the status of the stations, Manconi said the east-end stations – uOttawa, Lees, Hurdman, Tremblay, St-Laurent, Cyrville and Blair – are “essentially complete.”
The “finishing touches” are reportedly underway at the underground Rideau station, which, only two months ago, had a “significant amount” of construction, mechanical and electrical work left to go, according to Manconi.
As for the west-end stations, Manconi noted that the cycling lanes at Pimisi are nearing the “final stages of marking.”
All the fare gates and fare vending machines have been installed at the LRT stations, he said.
Watson has said he intends to bring forward a municipal budget that freezes transit fares until the LRT is up and running. He told reporters on Wednesday the city will look to make up that lost revenue in a handful of ways: dipping into reserve funds, saving OC Transpo dollars where possible and through income from increased ridership.