Ottawa LRT train snags cause more delays: Date still not set for $2.1 billion project handover

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Ottawa’s Confederation Line Light Rail Transit (LRT) system was originally supposed to be delivered and ready by May 24, 2018 – but even after more extensions, the project won’t be ready for its most recently-stated completion date: June 30.

The problems with the $2.1 billion project are primarily with reliability of the 34 LRT vehicles produced by French-based manufacturer Alstrom.

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson said he called Alstrom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge last Tuesday to say he’s fed up with Alstom’s performance. Watson said he invited Poupart-Lafarge to Ottawa to discuss the problems in person with Rideau Transit Group (RTG) and city staff within the next two weeks. Watson says he accepted the invitation.

“I told him it’s not going to be a pleasant meeting because we are fed up with the excuses and the system not working to our satisfaction and obviously we’re not going to accept a substandard product on Day 1,” Watson said.

There continue to be problems with the trains’ brakes and door systems, as well as issues with the onboard communication system and the operator monitoring system. As well, there is a problem with the equipment that connects the trains with the overhead wires.

The city is keeping track of delay costs including consultants and the need to keep buses on routes far longer than planned, and plans to deduct these expenses from RTG – though the consortium building the project doesn’t accept that it needs to pay for the over-runs, so the matter is probably headed for court.

Until March 2019, the gross spending overrun relating to delays reached about $81 million, though there were some savings in maintenance and other costs – but the city expects to get another $25 million from RTG through delay provisions in the contract.

RTG is seeking a “substantial completion” declaration so it can begin the 12-consecutive-day test period and ultimately receive about $260 million in construction payments. However, the independent certifier denied RTG the declaration in May and the company and city have agreed on the required fixes before RTG can reapply for substantial completion.

The city expects to receive a new suggested handover date from RTG in mid-June, though there is skepticism because of all of the other missed deadlines including May 24, 2018, Nov. 2, 2018 and March 31, 2019.

“Let me be crystal clear. I’m not here doing RTG any favours. The opposite. In the boardroom, unrelenting, all penalties apply, all costs are being tracked. I’m not on for doing RTG favours,” The Ottawa Citizen quoted city transportation general manager John Manconi as saying.

“As difficult as it is, I’ll continue to deliver the difficult message. It’s ready when it’s ready when we say it’s ready.”

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