Ottawa watching summer construction season to gauge possible LRT delays

The handover for the second stage of light-rail transit in Ottawa hinges on the summer construction season, OC Transpo head John Manconi said Wednesday. Craig Lord / Global News

Ottawa transit officials are keeping an eye on how well the city’s upcoming construction season goes to gauge whether the handover for the Trillium Line light-rail expansion could be delayed.

Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday following an update on Stage 2 LRT construction that TransitNEXT, the subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin tasked with extending the north-south rail line, will provide the city with a clearer picture of the handover timelines in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Officials had said previously there could be an update on “schedule pressures” affecting the Trillium Line project at Tuesday’s finance committee meeting, but that update never came.

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TransitNEXT indicated to the city earlier this year that it could be facing delays on the project in the realm of 40 days, according to staff, but the city said at the time that it hasn’t accepted those setbacks.

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Speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s transit commission meeting, OC Transpo head John Manconi said it’s not one or two key variables contributing to the uncertainty, it’s the “whole project.”

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Trillium Line contractors are now in the middle of the expansion project, Manconi said, and there’s a lot of activity happening across the line even on weekends and evenings. Any possible delays will likely be determined by how much work the crews are able to get done during the longer days and warm weather in the upcoming months.

“The big bulk is, where do they land with construction? It’s a big season, great weather and taking full advantage of the summer and into the fall,” he said.

“We’re looking at the whole project comprehensively. We want to bring council a fulsome and accurate update at the end of Q4.”

The Trillium Line extension, which will connect the system to Limebank Road and the Ottawa International Airport in the south, is planned for a handover in August 2022.

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Hopes of a partial reopening of the line if there is a significant construction delay were dampened on Tuesday.

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Watson had asked staff to look into reopening part of the Trillium Line on schedule — restoring service to Carleton University, for example, in time for the regular return to classes in September.

But rail construction director Michael Morgan told the finance committee on Tuesday that a “partial opening is likely impossible” because of issues in the northern section of the track. But again, he said that based on how the upcoming construction season goes, there might be opportunities in the future to revisit the idea.

Morgan also said there’s been a “slowdown” in deliveries of the new Alstom vehicles for the Stage 2 Confederation Line expansion from the manufacturing facilities in Brampton, Ont.

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The city has so far received four of the trains, with four more undergoing final testing, 16 in production and another 14 awaiting production. Overall, deliveries are still on schedule for the east and west extension, Morgan said.

The first shipments from Switzerland of the seven Stadler trains needed for the Trillium Line are still expected to begin this fall.

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