Handover of Ottawa’s Confederation LRT line delayed for a third time

There's been shortage of trains on Ottawa's LRT line for three days in a row so far this week. City of Ottawa

One day before voting on the $4.66-billion deal for Stage 2 of Ottawa’s light-rail transit (LRT) system, the mayor and city councillors have learned that the consortium building the first stage of the LRT will miss its third deadline to complete the $2.1-billion Confederation Line.

The Rideau Transit Group (RTG) told the City of Ottawa on Friday that it would not meet the March 31, 2019 target date, OC Transpo General Manager John Manconi told the city’s finance and economic development committee on Tuesday.

Manconi told Mayor Jim Watson and councillors that RTG will now deliver the 13-stop, east-west Confederation Line sometime between April and June and will provide the city with a new target date within 60 days.

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RTG will be hit with a $1-million fine for missing the deadline at the end of this month, same as when it missed the Nov. 2, 2018 deadline. (The train was originally due on May 24, 2018.) Manconi reiterated that the city continues to withhold millions of dollars in “milestone payments” to RTG.

News that the LRT’s builder will miss its third deadline comes three weeks after Peter Lauch, the CEO of RTG, told the same committee he was “confident” the consortium would meet the March 31 target date. Manconi, at that same meeting on Feb. 12, said he believed there was “no probability” that would happen.

RTG wasn’t ‘comfortable enough’ with status of LRT vehicles, testing to commit to March 31

Coun. Riley Brockington, one of 19 councillors present for Tuesday’s update, pointed to Lauch’s comments last month and asked why RTG isn’t delivering the Confederation Line by March 31.

Lauch replied that RTG was obliged to tell the city if it was going to meet its deadline or not on Feb. 28. At that point, the consortium “wasn’t comfortable enough” with the status of the LRT fleet – comprised of 34 single vehicles – and its progress in testing the train cars on the tracks to commit to the March 31 date, Lauch said.

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A handful of major snowfalls this winter created challenges for LRT vehicle testing – in one case, causing a six-day delay – and triggered concerns about the reliability of the Alstom Citadis Spirit vehicles in Ottawa’s winter conditions.

One train car got stuck on the tracks and had to be towed away but Manconi insisted this was due to the snow conditions on the track and wasn’t an issue with the design of the vehicle. He said RTG has modified its winter operating plans as a result of these challenges and extra snow-clearing equipment has since been deployed.

An image of an LRT train set on the tracks during the wintertime in Ottawa. City of Ottawa

When the Confederation Line is in service, 30 train cars will be on the tracks at peak service, in 15 sets of double cars. (The last four vehicles are reserved for backup.) The city has said it won’t accept the LRT system from RTG until all the vehicles have been approved for use and have passed a 12-day, “flawless” end-to-end trial run, simulating how the train will operate once it begins carrying riders.

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In his presentation on Tuesday, Manconi said 24 of the 34 single vehicles have been certified for use, up from the 14 reported three weeks ago. The remaining 10 train cars have “minor deficiencies,” he said.

WATCH: (May 2, 2018) Sneak peek of the Ottawa LRT
Click to play video: 'Sneak peek of the Ottawa LRT'
Sneak peek of the Ottawa LRT

Around 12 single vehicles were tested end-to-end for 24 hours straight over four days since Feb. 27, Manconi reported. Testing of coupled train cars has also occurred in both summer and winter conditions, he added.

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Manconi was asked multiple times by councillors and reporters if the city risks receiving an LRT system later this year that hasn’t fully simulated operations in winter conditions.

“I’m worried we’ll take this system sometime in June … and we end up with a three-season service and next winter it’s not reliable,” Coun. Diane Deans said.

Manconi said he’s not concerned that will happen because the train cars have been tested “all winter long” and reiterated that recent issues have to do with the conditions of the track, which are being addressed.

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“We saw that major storm … The vehicles have operated through those things. They have had a really good couple of weeks,” he said of RTG’s recent progress on testing.

An image of the Parliament LRT station in downtown Ottawa. City of Ottawa

As for the LRT stations, nine of the 13 are ready to go, Manconi said. The four outliers are Tunney’s Pasture, Parliament, Rideau and St-Laurent, which require “minor landscaping” this spring.

Manconi said RTG has made “significant process” on the other items on its to-do list, which include final testing of the tunnel ventilation system, finalizing the communication and control systems, and verifying the electrical network.

The train system also needs to be cleared by the city’s independent safety auditor. The city expects to receive a “preliminary safety case” this week so it can kick start the final review process, according to Manconi’s presentation.

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Manconi told councillors the Confederation Line’s latest delay will not affect the city’s budget or the city’s plans to begin the second stage of LRT construction later this year.

Council to vote on Stage 2 LRT contracts on Wednesday

Tuesday’s LRT update came the day before city council is set to vote on two contracts worth nearly $4.7 billion for Stage 2 of the O-Train’s expansion.

The city has tapped Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin to design, build and maintain the Trillium Line’s southern extension. International construction consortium East West Connectors is in line to construct the Confederation Line’s new east and west arms.

The south, east and west extensions would open to riders in 2022, 2024 and 2025, respectively, according to city staff.

Asked how residents can have confidence in those launch dates given the Confederation Line’s multiple delays, Watson said Stage 2 LRT is “not as complicated” as the first phase and won’t involve underground tunnelling for several kilometres.

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A division of RTG has a 30-year maintenance contract with the city for the Confederation Line.

Coun. Carol Anne Meehan asked Manconi if he thinks there’s any chance the Confederation Line will be completed later than the end of June.

“I’m not seeing any indication that it will go later,” Manconi said.

For his part, Lauch said during the meeting he is “confident” that RTG will deliver the LRT by then.

A map of the city’s plans for the Stage 2 expansion of Ottawa’s LRT system. City of Ottawa

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