The City of Ottawa will need to wait a while longer before it gets the keys to its new light rail transit system from the consortium of companies building the project.

Rideau Transit Group (RTG) is getting extra time to deliver after telling the city that meeting the May 24, 2018, deadline would be risky. 

In late November, RTG said the original deadline could be met, but that "delay events" — catastrophic sinkholes, for example — and contract changes might get in the way. 

'There's no incentive for RTG to drag this out. It's the opposite.' - John Manconi, GM of transportation

So instead of pushing it, the city is extending the handover date, said transportation staff during an LRT update at City Hall Friday. The new target date has not been announced.

While a handful of city officials, including Mayor Jim Watson, have known about the extension since November, the rest of council were only notified today, at the same time as the public.

"We're working with [RTG] to finalize the schedule so we can have that firm date," said John Manconi, general manager of transportation for the city.

Manconi reassured residents the trains will start running sometime in 2018.

City could withhold funding

As part of its initial agreement with RTG, the city has the right to withhold monthly payments if the contractor does not meet agreed-to deadlines. The city can also impose a $1-million fine.

"The taxpayers will be protected," said Manconi. "There's no incentive for RTG to drag this out. It's the opposite."

But Manconi would not say whether the city will actually impose those penalties.

The city will ask RTG to prepare a plan to minimize the delay.

Mandatory safety audit

Before RTG can hand over the system it will have to finish construction on the new LRT stations, finish building all the trains and test the overall system.

The sinkhole last spring made it difficult for the contractors to test the entire line. Instead they've created a "mini-system" that allows trains to run between the University of Ottawa and Blair stations for testing.

The line will need to pass an independent safety audit before the city takes it over. 

Manconi said Friday there's no date set for when the trains will finally start running, but pledged to provide councillors with another update by March.