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UPDATED: Long-delayed Ottawa LRT will open to public on Sept. 14

Ottawa residents can start riding the light-rail trains on the long-delayed Confederation Line on Sept. 14, the mayor of Ottawa announced on Friday.

Mayor Jim Watson revealed the LRT’s launch date during a briefing at city hall, exactly 456 days after the $2.1-billion LRT system was originally supposed to be delivered to the city.

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

While the CEO of the Rideau Transit Group (RTG) – the builder of the east-west Stage 1 LRT – presented a framed key to the Confederation Line to city officials on Friday, the city doesn’t technically have full control of the LRT system yet.

RTG is in the process of turning over the 12.5-kilometre rail system, which involves submitting certain documentation, city staff said.

The handover process should be finished by the end of next week and isn’t expected to affect the Sept. 14 launch day, Michael Morgan, director of the city’s rail construction program, said during a technical briefing that followed Watson’s announcement.

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READ MORE: Rideau Transit Group misses 4th deadline for LRT handover to City of Ottawa

RTG, a private consortium of Canadian and international companies, is set to receive a final payment of about $202 million once the handover – or “revenue service availability” – has been achieved.

However, senior staff said the city intends to deduct from that last payment about $35 million for costs the municipality has incurred as a result of the LRT’s delays, as well as an additional $1 million penalty for missing the most recent handover deadline on Aug. 16.

John Manconi, head of OC Transpo, has said for months the city would need up to four weeks to prepare the train and its 13 stations for launch day after taking control of the LRT system. OC Transpo will run a series of “operational drills” in the weeks that remain before the Confederation Line’s grand opening, staff said on Friday.

LRT passed trial run this week, staff say; fleet size for peak hours changes

Before RTG could begin the handover process, it had to pass a critical trial run that involved mimicking the schedule and service that OC Transpo has planned for the train over 12 consecutive days and without a major hitch. A serious problem would trigger a restart of the trial run, Manconi said ahead of the test.

The trial run period began on July 29 and was successfully completed earlier this week, according to city staff.

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In the end, the LRT system didn’t run flawlessly for 12 consecutive days; it ran for 14 days straight but two of those were “repeat days,” according to Manconi, who had remained tight-lipped about the test over the last month. The senior manager said the testing regime allowed for up three repeat days before RTG would be forced to start the test over.

Manconi said there was “a mixture of positive days and some challenging days” during the 25-day trial run period – which only ended Thursday. RTG “didn’t do well” at the start and resets did occur during the test period, he said.

WATCH (March 4, 2019): Ottawa city councillors, staff invited to experience LRT simulator
Ottawa city councillors, staff invited to experience LRT simulator
Ottawa city councillors, staff invited to experience LRT simulator

Over the last year, Manconi said multiple times OC Transpo would have 30 trains in 15 sets of double cars on the tracks during the morning and evening rush hours, once the train launched. On Friday, however, Manconi said the city’s “current requirement to meet ridership demand” is 13 double-trains.

Asked about the change from 15 to 13 double-trains, Manconi said 15 was the initial “forecast” when the bid for the Confederation Line went out, but transit ridership has decreased since then.

RTG showed it could run both 13, 14 and 15 double-trains during peak service throughout the trial run and 13 double-trains or more were used every day of the 14-day test, he said.

Manconi said the Confederation Line project agreement “did not specify pass-fail criteria to be used for trial running” and so the city “established targets for operations that were based on industry best-practices” and that focused on two main criteria: “safety and dependability for the customer.”

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The city wanted to see “96 per cent dependability over nine of the 12 continuous running days” while RTG aimed for 98 per cent, Manconi said.

“I can advise that RTG has achieved 97 per cent – 96.7 to be exact – availability over a nine-day period as of Monday, August 19 which is in line with the city’s expectations,” he said.

READ MORE: Ottawa city council extends transit fare freeze until after LRT opens

According to staff, the city measured dependability through “various measurements” across six lenses: safety, stations, customer-facing systems, major operational systems, operations and maintenance.

Manconi said RTG and the LRT system demonstrated “a solid safety record” during the trial run period, claiming there were no incidents, safety infractions or safety concerns.

He said the city’s independent safety auditor will be signing off on the trial run.

Politicians, media rode LRT before launch day announcement

Before Friday’s announcement, media, city staff and local, provincial and federal politicians were invited to hop on board an augural, LRT ride from Blair station (the station furthest east) to Tunney’s Pasture (the final stop to the west).

The end-to-end journey ran smoothly and took about 21 minutes. The train stopped at all stations but the doors did not open and close as passengers were not boarding or disembarking.

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

RTG missed four official handover dates over the last 15 months: May 24, 2018, Nov. 2, 2018, Mar. 31, 2019 and Aug. 16, 2019. The city has said it will fine the consortium $1 million for each of those missed deadlines.

During his remarks at city hall, Watson thanked residents for their patience during the construction and transit detours that lasted longer than expected.

An affiliate of RTG, Rideau Transit Maintenance, is responsible for maintaining the Confederation Line for a 30-year period.