Ottawa

LRT handover likely running late, transit boss says

Ottawa's general manager of transportation says it's unlikely the Rideau Transit Group will deliver the city's LRT system on May 24, the date specified in its contract.

Could be weeks before public learns of opening date

John Manconi thinks "there's no way" RTG will make its deadline to deliver the LRT by May 24. (CBC News)

Today is decision day for the Rideau Transit Group.

The consortium building Ottawa's $2-billion light rail system has to tell the city today whether it's going to make its May 24 deadline to hand over control of the tunnels and tracks it's been building for years.

It seems unlikely.

"Our assessment — and every indication we have — leads us to believe there's no way they're going to make May 24," said John Manconi, the city's general manager of transportation.

But even when the consortium does give the city a new date, the public won't find out what it is for weeks.

Update promised

Manconi and other rail officials said they will update council's finance and economic development committee sometime in the first quarter of this year.

There are two finance committees scheduled during the first three months of this year, on Feb. 6 and March 6.

Rideau Transit Group (RTG) was obliged to tell the city on Nov. 24 whether it would be able to turn over the LRT to the city by May 24, the date stipulated in the project contract.

The consortium said it could make the date, but it was "risky."

Construction hoarding for the O-Train Confederation Line sits on Queen Street in Ottawa on August 3, 2017. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

However, neither the public nor councillors knew that RTG was in danger of not making its deadline until Dec. 15, raising the ire of a number of elected officials who had asked specifically about the light-rail timeline during 2018 budget discussions in early December.

At the time, Manconi said the city gave RTG until Jan. 24 to say definitively what the date will be.

Although the city and RTG have been in intensive talks late last year and this month, Manconi told CBC on Tuesday "we still don't have a firm date."

Unclear if RTG on schedule

And when the consortium does name a new date, Manconi said he won't make it public until the city's rail staff can confirm the new deadline is realistic and that the city "has confidence that RTG can make it work."

Asked why he can't even say what date he'll address the finance committee, Manconi said he wants to be sure he can answer all the questions that will arise from a new delivery date.

That includes being able to give some indication of when light rail will be in service.

The transit boss said that once it takes over, it will take several weeks of operating and testing before the city will actually start operating the rail system — assuming all that testing goes fine.

Two-thirds of the train cars are assembled so far, but it's unclear whether that's meeting RTG's schedule. (Mathieu Fleury/Twitter)

Manconi could not say whether RTG was on schedule with various aspects of the giant project.

For example, 23 of the 34 rail cars have been assembled, but it's not clear whether that's the number RTG expected to have completed by this time.

Both Manconi and Mayor Jim Watson have said they will impose the fines that are stipulated in the contract should RTG miss its May 24 deadline, although those details are likely to be sorted out later.

Manconi pointed out that RTG will be losing out on millions of dollars in payments from the city the longer it takes to complete the rail system.

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.

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