LRT contract shows service was to begin May 2018

Ottawa's $2.1-billion light rail project is the most expensive infrastructure undertaking in the city's history. So there should be virtually no questions about the project that are out of bounds — especially, when it's going to be complete.

City officials now refusing to say when light rail might start other than '2018'

Coun. Stephen Blais, left, and Ottawa's general manager of transportation, John Manconi, have both refused to confirm whether light rail service will launch in Ottawa in May 2018 — the date mentioned in the city's contract with the Rideau Transit Group. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Ottawa's light rail project is the most expensive infrastructure undertaking in the city's history.

The $2.1-billion cost alone, borne exclusively by taxpayers, makes the LRT the most consequential project in Ottawa right now.

So there should be virtually no questions about the project that are out of bounds.

But this is what the city's general manager of transportation services, John Manconi, told reporters when asked what happened to the May 2018 target date.

"I know you're looking for us to give you all kinds of dates and so forth," Manconi said. "The fact of the matter is this — the train will go into revenue service when the train is ready to go into revenue service."

Date was always May 2018, documents show

Neither Manconi nor transit commission chair Stephen Blais would say when this massive project might actually be finished, although the councillor insisted it will "be on schedule for 2018."

But what schedule is the councillor talking about?

Because here is the actual fact of the matter: the LRT was supposed to operational by May 2018. Many documents reference that date, including older versions of the Confederation Line website.

This archived February 2016 screenshot from the City of Ottawa's Confederation Line website shows that the plan was initially to have full LRT service launched by the spring of 2018. (

In documents released by the city Thursday afternoon, it's now clear the intended date for the LRT to be in service was early May 2018.

The contract between the city and Rideau Transit Group, the consortium building light rail, specifies that the "scheduled substantial completion date" is May 7, 2018. The contract also defines "revenue service availability" — that's contract-talk for when light rail would be usable by the public — as "substantial completion."

Hence, light rail was to go into revenue service on May 7, 2018.

The train will go into revenue service when the train is ready to go into revenue service.- John Manconi, general manager of transportation services

Missing that deadline, which now appears to be the case, may cost RTG money.

According to a recent email from the city's LRT construction director Steve Cripps, the contract offers RTG financial incentives to meet certain milestones such as the substantial completion date.

It's unclear what the other financial ramifications — if any — of missing that deadline may be.

Above-ground work may also be behind schedule

There's another, much earlier, deadline that RTG needs to meet: June 1, 2017. In 10 weeks, the "downtown core elements" are supposed to completed — sidewalks and streets are supposed to be paved, hoarding removed and, presumably, deep gaping holes in city streets are supposed to be covered over.

Currently, parts of Queen Street between Bank and O'Connor are torn up, while Rideau Street is still recovering from last June's sinkhole. What shape will these downtown streets be in come Canada Day, a mere 10 weeks from now? Cripps is expected to update the mayor and council on these issues over the next month or so.

The above-ground LRT work was supposed to be done by June 1, 2107. It's unclear whether holes like this one at Queen and O'Connor streets, will be covered over by Canada Day. (Joanne Chianello, CBC News)

When council approved the LRT contract in December of 2012, it called for "RTG to play an active role in our sesquicentennial celebrations on July 1st, 2017." The plan called for downtown stations to be available for tours, and for people to have demonstration rides on part of the line.

Those demonstrations rides are now off, although it's unclear when that was decided. Instead, a production by Montreal-based studio Moment Factory will be shown in Lyon Station. The production is supposed to be installed and ready for viewing by the end of June.

Rideau sinkhole likely cause of delay

Although city officials are refusing to even confirm that the light rail project will be completed later than originally expected, it's likely that the fallout from the Rideau sinkhole has pushed back opening day.

"The sinkhole did cause some setbacks, as you know," Manconi told reporters this week. "We all need to remind ourselves we had a massive sinkhole. Nobody got hurt. Nobody died."

When does John Manconi believe light rail will arrive in Ottawa? As he recently told reporters, 'the train will go into revenue service when the train is ready to go into revenue service.' (CBC News)

It's a bit of an odd statement. Presumably what Manconi is getting at is the fact that LRT and city workers had to deal with a huge emergency, that luckily no one was injured, and that a minor delay is a small price to pay.

And that would be reasonable — if anyone actually said that. Instead, city officials have insisted for the past 10 months that the project was on time, despite the obvious delays being caused by the sinkhole.

And worse, they've now stopped answering questions altogether about when the LRT project might be completed.


Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

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

With files from Ashley Burke