No launch date for Ottawa LRT but builder applies to move on to critical 12-day trial run

OC Transpo's light-rail train could be open to riders as early as this summer. City of Ottawa

The builder of Ottawa’s thrice-delayed light-rail train says it has finished construction and testing of the system and has applied for “substantial completion” of the $2.1-billion project, but OC Transpo isn’t totally satisfied with the status of the trains, the city’s head of transportation said on Friday.

Achieving substantial completion marks a critical milestone in the LRT project agreement and would allow the Rideau Transit Group (RTG) to move on to a contractually obligated, 12-consecutive-day trial run of the Confederation Line.

While there was no word on a new LRT handover or launch date during an update at city hall on Friday, OC Transpo boss John Manconi said RTG continues to tell the city it will deliver the train by the end of June — which would place the LRT more than a year behind schedule.

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Meanwhile, all 13 stations along the east-west LRT line have received occupancy permits and are in the stages of final cleanup, Manconi reported.

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The senior manager said the city has reviewed RTG’s application for substantial completion and passed it on to an independent certifier, who is looking it over and will issue a decision by 4 p.m. on Monday.

But OC Transpo’s opinion is that the LRT system “doesn’t meet the technical definition of substantial completion” because “outstanding work of varying degrees remains,” Manconi said. Namely, there is still a “wide range” of small issues with the train vehicles to “shake out,” he said.

Manconi, Mayor Watson press Alstom to address outstanding issues with LRT cars

Manconi told councillors sitting on the city’s finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) that Ottawa has “a very good rail vehicle coming” and all 34 LRT cars are operational and being tested on the tracks.

But there are a bunch of “minor issues that have yet to be resolved by the trains’ supplier Alstom, he claimed. He cited as an example a sliding door in one of the cabs that needed repairs.

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

These issues aren’t out of the ordinary for a new fleet and everything identified is “fixable,” he said, but emphasized that OC Transpo wants “a reliable fleet across the board.”

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“The best thing that RTG can do right now is have laser focus and be accountable for getting those vehicles to the state that we need and put the pressure on Alstom to make sure they deliver,” he said.

“The loud and strong message is: ‘Alstom, you better be listening. You got to get those trains done.'”

Aside from the issues with the vehicles, there are no problematic “showstoppers” with the LRT system, Manconi said. If the snags with the train cars can be ironed out in a timely manner, he said he believes RTG can make the end-of-June target.

Speaking to reporters after the FEDCO meeting, Mayor Jim Watson said he called the chairman of Alstom France about two weeks ago about the matter and claimed the chairman “assured” him the issues with the train cars would be resolved by the end of June.

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Manconi also told media those minor issues won’t impact the kickoff of the 12-day trial run. RTG must achieve 12 consecutive days of flawless, simulated service during that run before the city will accept the system.

Once it gets the keys to the system, the city will still need about a month to prepare the line before opening the train doors to transit riders.

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“If they make that (end-of-June) date, we’re into a summer launch,” Manconi said.

RTG didn’t complete the train in time for its last official handover date of March 31, marking its third missed deadline in a year.

READ MORE: OC Transpo LRT train partially derails at Belfast depot

The consortium wasn’t penalized when it missed its first deadline of May 24, 2018 but was fined $1 million for failing to make its second deadline on Nov. 2. OC Transpo officials said the city would slap the builder with another $1-million penalty for missing the handover date this past March.

Achieving substantial completion comes with a milestone payment that the city has withheld from RTG due to the train’s delays. The city’s final payment to RTG will be made when the consortium delivers the LRT line.

Derailment on May 3 due to ‘incorrect switch’

Manconi on Friday also explained what caused an LRT train to partially derail during a training exercise at the Belfast Yard in the early hours of May 3.

An “incorrect switch movement” caused the wheels of one slow-moving train to “shift off the track” at the point where the vehicles move from one track to another, Manconi told councillors.

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“It was a human error,” he said.

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The switches within the maintenance facility are manually controlled right now but that is changing, Manconi said.

OC Transpo immediately halted train activities after the incident, but they resumed again at 3 p.m., the senior manager said. No one was injured and the switch mechanism only required “minor repairs,” he said.

After investigating the incident, several “operational and procedural changes” were implemented in the aftermath, according to Manconi.

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