Ottawa·EXPLAINER

The latest on the LRT deadline

The consortium building the $2.1-billion Confederation Line told councillors it can meet the March 31 deadline to hand the LRT line over to the city. Very few others believe them. Here are the two main things you need to know about the latest deadline dispute.

2 things you need to know as March 31 handover deadline approaches

The CEO of Rideau Transit Group, Peter Lauch, right, made a rare appearance at Ottawa city hall on Feb. 12, 2019 at the mayor's request. He said RTG will meet its March 31 handover deadline, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi, left, said he was 'highly skeptical.' (Kate Porter/CBC)

On Tuesday, we heard Rideau Transit Group — the consortium building the $2.1-billion Confederation Line — tell councillors it can meet the March 31 deadline to hand the LRT line over to the city.

Certain city officials, including the head of OC Transpo and the mayor, believe no such thing.

This massive project is an ongoing saga with no end in site, and here are two major things you need to know about RTG's third deadline to complete LRT.

1. It's really, really (yes, really) unlikely RTG will meet it

First, there's the credibility factor.

RTG originally said it thought it could meet its May 2018 deadline, and then its November 2018 deadline, despite serious doubts from the city, and we all know how that turned out. 

But more to the point are the things that need to be fixed, or at least accomplished, in the next 46 days. As we heard Tuesday from the city's transportation GM John Manconi and RTG CEO Peter Lauch, the issues fall into eight categories.

Some areas might be considered minor. For example, the ventilation system in the tunnel requires final testing before it gets its stamp of approval. So that has the potential to go smoothly.

But there are far more serious red flags. One is that less than half of the 34 light-rail cars — just 14 of them — have the final sign-off. Another 10 have some of their required certifications, while 10 have various outstanding issues.

If you're still thinking RTG could make that March 31 deadline, consider this: the consortium has to run the entire system — with 15 full trains (each train is made of two cars) — from Blair Station in the east to Tunney's in the west for 12 consecutive days, as if the light-rail line was fully operational.

That means morning and afternoon rush hours, weekend schedules, with the train stopping at the right places, all the doors opening and closing when they're supposed to, with customers being loaded and unloaded safely. 

If something does go wrong, RTG has to fix it, of course, but then the clock on the 12 days starts again.

Here's the thing: RTG has not started that testing at all because of so-called "fleet availability."

Translation: It hasn't had enough light-rail cars in operation to begin the testing. In fact, there's been relatively little end-to-end testing of a full, two-car train at all.

The LRT delays are costing the city $25 million, and that's assuming it will be ready by March 31. There's no guarantee that RTG will pick up those costs. (CBC)
2. The costs are mounting

There's always been a lot of focus on the $1-million penalty that RTG would have to pay if it missed its deadline, especially when it was discovered that it really didn't have to pay it the first time it didn't make its due date. 

However, RTG did get charged the $1 million for missing the November delivery date — technically, the city subtracts the money from what it owes RTG at its next milestone payment — and RTG will be hit with the $1-million penalty again if and when it misses the March 31 deadline.

But that's a drop in the bucket compared to the costs the city is incurring due to the LRT delay.

Late last year, the city treasurer's office reported that the city is spending more to keep buses on the road longer than planned, extending bus detours and keeping the O-Train construction office going. But, it has saved some money by deferring maintenance costs and debt payments to RTG.

Still, the net cost to the city from the delays is a net $24.5 million — and that was assuming that the LRT would be completed by March 31.

The city has always been insistent that any cost overruns would be borne by RTG, because the two parties have a fixed-price contract. But that's not the way that RTG reads the contract, or the causes for the delays. RTG, for example, takes no responsibility for the June 2016 Rideau sinkhole that was a major cause of the first delay, and hence doesn't believe it should pay the city's costs in that.

Watson said Tuesday that he suspected the dispute over additional costs will eventually "be solved many years down the road as a result of court action in a public court."

We'll know for sure if the LRT is delayed by March 6, but we won't know for some time if we are on the hook for millions in cost overruns.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now