LRT delayed until 2019

The City’s $2 billion Confederation Line Light Rail Transit project will not be ready for passengers in 2018.

The Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO) has heard that Rideau Transit Group (RTG) will not meet its November 2 handover deadline.

Transportation manager John Manconi told FEDCO he received a call from RTG Friday night with the update that RTG will not be ready hand over the system to the City of Ottawa by November 2.

“On the way home last Friday, I got a call from RTG and they notified us that they’ve submitted a schedule–not a change in RSA notice but a schedule–that they now plan to achieve revenue service availability by November 30th,” Manconi said. “Preliminary analysis–and we have to do a deep dive on that–of that information, provided by them late Friday, shows that all vehicles and testing commissioning would not be completed until the new year. That’s our preliminary assessment of it.”

Manconi says if the November 2 deadline is not met, RTG will be penalized $1 million on the City’s next payment to the consortium. There are two payments left, Manconi says, totaling $262 million. The million dollar penalty would come out of one of those payments.

Manconi says he expects the Confederation Line will not be ready for passengers until the first quarter of 2019.

“Based on the assessment by the City, its expert advisors, and the information RTG just recently provided to us, the City is of the view that the LRT system will not enter revenue service in 2018,” he said. “The last independent assessment we conducted indicated Q1 2019 and that’s before we received the information late Friday.”

In other words, it could be any time between January 1 and March 31, 2019. Manconi told reporters after the FEDCO meeting he is not going to pin down a date.

“We’re going to meet with [RTG] and ask to walk through the letter that we received on Friday, which is a schedule update,” he said. “We’re going to ask them if they’re giving us a new RSA date because that’s not what they’re giving us, they’re just giving us an updated schedule, and we’re going to dive into the details of whatever date their picking. We’re going to, with our independent assessment team, look at the evidence to understand that we can move there. It’s difficult enough to shift one date, we don’t want to be shifting another date, and that’s the part they need to understand.”

Mayor Jim Watson says the news is regretful, but he’d rather RTG get it right, than launch an unfinished system on time.

“We regret that we’re not opening the system but safety and security have to be paramount,” Watson said. “We’re not going to open a system that does not have all of the proper checks and balances to make sure that, when people get on that train, it’s reliable, it’s safe, and it’s secure. Secondly, we’re not going to open a system where only have, for instance, one half of the Rideau Station outlets open. We want to make sure that, when people get on the train, it’s an enjoyable experience.”

Both Manconi and Watson say they do not expect the delay in Phase 1 to affect construction of Phase 2 of LRT, which is expected to begin in 2019 and be completed by 2023.

Bus route changes to remain, some drivers to keep jobs longer

With this latest delay comes a domino effect on the city’s transit system. Several route changes made on Labour Day weekend were based around a fall launch for LRT. Those buses will now not connect with the train as scheduled.

Manconi says the changes that have already been made will stay in place, but future changes will wait until after the trains are officially running.

“The current plan is to hold it the way it is right now,” he said. “We don’t want to be flip-flopping back and forth. The point of any future changes is, that’s when all of the future transfers get infused and, obviously, they can’t be implemented until when we go to launch.”

The drivers who were expecting to be laid off upon the LRT’s launch may not lose their jobs right away.

“For those unfortunate employees who got a layoff notice, that date is going to change into the new year,” Manconi said. “We may go month-to-month or something like that. We’ll work with the union to sort that out.”

Manconi says a number of buses were expected to be disposed of once the train launched.

“We were anticipating to get through the end of the year and then we dispose of the fleet. We’ll have to do some things with that but I think it’s all manageable. Again, those are all costs that we’re going to track and we’ll add it to the bottom line.”