Ottawa

LRT running late — for 3rd time

The consortium building the city's $2.1-billion Confederation Line light rail project will miss its third deadline in a year, but is promising to hand over the keys sometime this spring.

Rideau Transit Group won't deliver by March 31, costing consortium another $1M

Rideau Transit Group CEO Peter Lauch speaks with city manager Steve Kanellakos during an update on the LRT project Wednesday. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The consortium building the city's $2.1-billion Confederation Line light rail project will miss its third deadline in a year, but is promising to hand over the keys sometime this spring.

The news comes as no surprise. Both Mayor Jim Watson and the city's general manager of transportation, John Manconi, said last month they doubted the consortium, Rideau Transit Group (RTG) — led by SNC-Lavalin and ACS — would finish the project on time.

Instead, RTG is now promising to hand over the system in the second quarter of 2019, or sometime between April and June, a year after it was originally scheduled to be finished.

"We want to hold off on committing to a date until we've seen these 10 to 14 days of consecutive, consistent, reliable running," RTG CEO Peter Lauch told councillors Tuesday at the finance and economic development committee meeting.

In response to a question from Coun. Riley Brockington, RTG CEO Peter Lauch says the Confederation Line will be handed over to the city in the second quarter of this year, before June 30. 1:11

Missing the March 31 deadline means RTG will be penalized $1 million for the second time in the past year.

Winter worries

As CBC has reported, testing on the Confederation Line has run into challenges, especially during winter, and the problems appear more serious than the public has been led to believe.

According to an internal report written last week by the city's rail office, the train "vehicles are currently unreliable to the point that it has not been demonstrated that operations can be sustained during a winter weather event."

On Tuesday, however, Manconi assured councillors those problems are "not the issue today." While there have been challenges operating in snow, including a train that got stuck and had to be towed to the garage last Thursday, Manconi blamed issues with plowing rather than the trains themselves.

In fact, crews spent most of the weekend clearing the 12.5-kilometre track with a new piece of equipment that melts snow. RTG rented the machinery, but said it plans to buy it for use on the Confederation Line.

Ramping up testing

All 34 rail cars are now equipped with the Thales communications system — on-board technology that allows the train to operate automatically. Ten of them are not certified by the company yet, but that's expected to happen over the next week or so.

There's also a plan to ramp up the number of cars being tested on the track. On Tuesday morning, six light rail vehicles were being tested, but RTG plans to get 20 out on the track soon.

John Manconi, general manager of OC Transpo, cautioned against making judgments based on internal reports that called LRT trains "unreliable." 0:33

On Friday, the city's rail director, Michael Morgan, told CBC about 12 cars were running for a total of up to 20 hours a day.

On Tuesday, Manconi appeared to contradict that statement when he said 12 cars operated continuously for four consecutive days. It's unclear which account is more accurate.

Winter worries

When the Confederation Line is fully operational, there will be 30 cars paired in 15 trains out on the track at one time. It's unclear when testing will reach that capacity, or when RTG will begin its 12 days of consecutive testing. During that phase, the system must run without major incident as if it was in actual operation.

Some councillors are concerned the 12-day run won't begin until spring, so the city won't know how the system handles winter weather until after RTG hands over the keys.

"I'm worried that we're going to take this system sometime in June when the flowers are blooming and … we accept this and we end up with a three-season system," Coun. Diane Deans said. "And then next winter, it's not reliable."

Coun. Shawn Menard said it was "clear that council and the public want more information," and asked Lauch if RTG would commit to providing councillors with weekly reports.

Lauch never had a chance to answer: city manager Steve Kanellakos said there will be no weekly reports, but promised senior staff "are tracking it."

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