The Rideau Transit Group and Transportation Services (RTG) publicly committed to meeting a March 31 deadline to hand over the keys to Ottawa’s new Light Rail system in an appearance before the city’s Finance and Economic Development Committee Tuesday.

But hearing is not necessarily believing.

John Manconi, the city’s manager of Transportation Services, told the committee in response to questioning that he was very skeptical of RTG’s ability to meet their March 31st deadline.

Meanwhile, Peter Lauch, RTG’s CEO, insisted he remains confident that the group will meet the deadline and added that RTG is not imagining any scenario where they do not meet it.

March 31 deadline is the third deadline for handover that RTG has provided the city, but after two missed dates Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the rest of city council are now waiting to see it happen before believing.

Watson, who sits on the committee, reiterated this early in the meeting when questioning Lauch.

“You realize, and you’ve failed to meet two deadlines before, that if you don’t do that your company will be $1 million poorer,” he asked, referring to penalties that come into effect after a missed deadline.

“In a project of this size, with so many different sites going on — this one has 14 sites and numerous systems […] there’s always some uncertainties. As we get closer and closer to the finish line, those uncertainties are less and less present,” Lauch said in defence of RTG’s ability to meet the deadline.

Manconi told the committee that the O-Train stations were all substantially finished, with very little work remaining. Almost all of the critical systems, from power to tunnel ventilation, are also operational and in good working order. His greatest concerns now, he said, were with fleet availability and the requirement that the transit system run for 12 consecutive “near-perfect” days before handing over the keys to the city and OC Transpo.

More than half of the 34-car fleet still needs to be certified for operation on the tracks, and Rideau Transit Group isn’t planning to begin the 12-day test until the second week of March. This leaves them with very little wiggle room if any problems do crop up. Any problems will require a “reset” and 12 more days of testing.

If the group meets the deadline, Manconi said OC Transpo will need two weeks to prepare the launch and could have the system online by the end of April.

Since missing their second deadline in the fall of 2018, Rideau Transit Group has been in negotiations with the city over the costs the delays have caused.

The city has withheld any new payments, totalling $262 million, Manconi said. The city has indicated it plans to deduct $25 million for incremental costs when the final payment occurs. Rideau Transit Group says it does not believe the city has the power to do this. Discussions are ongoing between the two parties.