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No new deadline for Ottawa’s LRT; consortium preparing for practice test of full fleet

Click to play video: 'Ottawa city councillors, staff invited to experience LRT simulator' Ottawa city councillors, staff invited to experience LRT simulator
Transit Commission chair Allan Hubley tries out the LRT simulator. Ottawa councillors and staff were invited to check out the OC Transpo facility on Monday including the command and training centres – Mar 4, 2019

The consortium building the thrice-delayed Confederation Line hasn’t yet given the City of Ottawa a new handover date for the light-rail transit (LRT) system, but it’s gearing up to practice running the full LRT fleet on the tracks and testing the train in a way that will mirror peak service levels once the line is in operation, OC Transpo’s top boss said on Tuesday.

The transit service needs 30 train cars, running in 15 sets of two cars each, to carry riders during rush hour periods once the $2.1-billion LRT system has launched, according to OC Transpo general manager John Manconi. The fleet is made up of 34 vehicles in total, but four will be kept aside as backup or in maintenance.

READ MORE: Handover of Ottawa’s Confederation LRT line delayed for a third time (Mar. 5, 2019)

The Rideau Transit Group (RTG) has committed to conduct what it’s calling a “practice plan” of scheduled operations — running the 15 double cars — before plunging into a contractually required trial run that needs to “flawlessly” simulate the system’s operations for 12 consecutive days. That trial run must be completed in order for the city to accept the keys to the system, Manconi has said.

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Speaking to reporters after his update to the finance and economic development committee on Tuesday, Manconi said six double cars were out on the tracks on Monday afternoon and through the night, and that number will increase as RTG “loads up the system” for its practice plan, which he has described as “studying for the final exam.” The start date for the practice plan has not yet been set, he said.

In response to a question from Coun. Diane Deans during the meeting, Manconi said he has “no sense yet” of when the 12-day trial run will begin. But Manconi told Mayor Jim Watson and councillors that RTG reached a “major” testing milestone when it began testing 20 individual train cars on the tracks on March 14, 2019.

That marked a “very important” stress test of the LRT system that went “very, very well,” Manconi reported.

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The same week as the March 14 stress test, RTG also tested 17 single train cars and two double cars running end-to-end on the east-west line from Tunney’s Pasture to Blair Station in the east end, according to the transportation manager.

READ MORE: Riding the LRT 101: What Ottawans need to know when the Confederation Line launches

Manconi also reported there were no major issues during a stress test at Tunney’s Pasture station on Sunday, March 31 that simulated bus-to-LRT transfers. When the LRT is running, Tunney’s Pasture will be the busiest bus-to-rail transfer point, with 160 to 190 buses passing through per hour, according to Manconi.

OC Transpo identified some minor adjustments that need to made as a result of the exercise, he said. The transit service conducted the same stress test at Hurdman Station in October and intends to run one at Blair Station as well, but a date for that has not yet been fixed.

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All LRT cars are built and in testing; nine of 13 stations ready for occupancy

Overall, Manconi said, RTG has “moved the yardstick forward significantly” on a number of “critical elements” it must tick off, per its contract with the city. In addition to the practice plan, those elements include the availability of the Confederation Line fleet, occupancy of the 13 stations and testing of the tunnel ventilation system, the train control system and the power system.

On the LRT fleet, Manconi said all 34 train cars are built and being tested in different configurations on the tracks with some minor troubleshooting. All those vehicles are now equipped with a “fully functioning and tested” Thales train control system, and 29 of the 34 have had their onboard train control equipment safety certified by Thales.

There’s “no major issues” with the remaining five, which will be certified “shortly,” Manconi reported.

READ MORE: Councillor wants City of Ottawa’s auditor general to probe LRT Stage 2 procurement process

As for the stations, OC Transpo now has occupancy of nine of them: Blair, Cyrville, Tremblay, Lees, uOttawa, Hurdman, Bayview, Pimisi and Tunney’s Pasture. The remaining work on the other four stations – Lyon, Parliament, Rideau and St-Laurent – is “minor in nature,” according to Manconi.

“The rest are literally around the corner,” he said.

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If RTG continues to move ward “in this fashion,” Manconi said, then he will continue to feel confident that the city will get the train before the end of June.

No new deadline for LRT yet

The city learned on March 5 that RTG would not make its third deadline of March 31 to hand over the LRT system to the City of Ottawa and would aim to deliver the train sometime in the second quarter of 2019.

On Tuesday, Manconi said the city doesn’t have a new, specific handover date to report right now and continues to work with RTG on a new deadline.

“We’ll release that when we have one they’re very confident in,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘The final piece of the puzzle’: Ontario government announces $1.2 billion in funding for LRT Phase 2

RTG has until May 31 to provide the city with a new date.

The consortium was not penalized when it missed its first deadline in May 2018 but was fined $1 million when it blew past its second deadline in November 2018. Manconi confirmed that RTG would face another $1-million penalty for missing last month’s handover date.

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