Snowfall freezes LRT testing

There's been no testing of light rail trains on Ottawa's $2-billion Confederation Line since last week's severe snow storm, raising questions about how well the system will work in winter weather.

No tests on Confederation Line since last week's winter storm

An O-Train rolls through uOttawa station during testing in February 2019. (CBC)

There's been no testing of light rail trains on Ottawa's $2-billion Confederation Line since last week's severe snow storm, raising questions about how well the system will work in winter weather.

"We have not deployed the trains on the track since the end of the storm … Wednesday or Thursday," the city's general manager of transportation, John Manconi, confirmed Tuesday.

As well, CBC News has learned that one light rail vehicle got stuck between Hurdman and Lees stations for two days because of the snow, and had to be towed to the maintenance and storage facility.

"If a vehicle was stuck there because of the snow conditions, that's probably the right thing to do because you don't want to damage the vehicle and push it through snow," Manconi said.

He added that the group building the LRT has had "very good days and they've had very challenging days. And that last storm was very, very challenging."

Clearing snow took days

The model of light rail vehicle being used on the Confederation Line — Alstom's Citadis Spirit — has never been used before in a public transit system.

CBC has been told that the Alstom vehicles have had trouble operating in just a few centimetres of snow, but Manconi said "that's not accurate."

Asked how much snow accumulation the Citadis Spirit could drive through, Manconi replied: "It doesn't go by depth. It really varies in terms of temperatures" and other conditions.

When snow does accumulate, the 12.5-kilometre track will be plowed with specialized equipment, and there's a plan to clear snow from the stations.

However, Rideau Transit Group — the SNC-Lavalin-led consortium building the LRT — had some trouble last week with winter maintenance near Tunney's Pasture.

"They were out this weekend, clearing the entire corridor from end to end," Manconi said.

3rd delay inevitable

Last week, RTG CEO Peter Lauch told city councillors he anticipated meeting the handover deadline of March 31, the project's third delivery target.

In fact, meeting that due date will be all but impossible.

Rideau Transit Group CEO Peter Lauch, right, told councillors last week he expects to meet the March 31 handover deadline, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi, left, said he's 'highly skeptical.' (Kate Porter/CBC)

Only 14 of 34 trains are ready. Ten haven't had their communications systems installed.

It's hard to see how there's enough time for RTG to complete 12 days of consecutive full-schedule testing in less than six weeks.

Now it appears snow is causing additional challenges.

However, Manconi stressed that just because the trains aren't on the tracks, it doesn't mean they're not undergoing other kinds of testing.

"They do heat tests, they do the software upgrade tests right in the vehicle," he said, although he couldn't say if those tests were in fact being performed.

"They do lots of tests in the maintenance storage facility and so on, but they haven't been tested on the track."