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Exploring the wizardry behind the LRT

WATCH ABOVE: Thousands of people in Edmonton rely on the LRT to get around each day. Michel Boyer takes us where no commuter is allowed to go.

Edmonton Off Limits is a special series that takes you behind closed doors to places that are usually forbidden or too dangerous for the general public.

EDMONTON — Keeping commuter train (LRT) operations on the move takes coordination, expertise, and all the right decisions at exactly the right time.

Train drivers have major responsibilities including respecting speed limits, watching out for vehicles and pedestrians trying to cross the tracks and ensuring the safety of everyone on board.

The drivers take their cues from a group of people in the LRT control room, located deep beneath city streets.

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Screens line the wall in the LRT control room. They show security cameras, train locations status of switches and signals. Global News
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Security cameras across the LRT network are connected into the control centre. Global News
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This section of screen shows the details of the tracks and train positions. Global News
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All the switches, signals and crossing arms are connected to the back end of the control room through relays. Global News
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Equipment in the maintenance depot is powerful enough to lift up an entire train. Global News
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Huge sweepers are connected to tractors that remove snow from tracks. Global News

“We help to make sure they stay on schedule,” said Jeffrey James, LRT Inspector. “If there is something wrong with the line, we can switch them from one track to another, we can control the signals and any aspects they see in the field.”

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Everything is controlled using an intricate system of computers, screens, and a couple clicks of a mouse. But the job does have its stressful moments.

“You can sit, and it will be very quiet, it’s a very reactionary job, you’re waiting for things to go wrong.”

And when things go wrong, the team springs into action.

The interface – a bunch of computer screens – is just the face of the inner workings of the LRT. The true controllers are in an area that is completely restricted.

Each of the switches, signals, and crossing arms are directly connected to transmitters in a huge room, also underground.

“This room is like a giant PC,” said Gary Sims, LRT Inspector. “A lot of power brings it all together.

“The transmitter is [there], it goes back through relays, and sends that information to us.”

Keeping the trains in good working order also takes a lot of maintenance. A whole facility is dedicated to that on the city’s north side. It’s so big it can hold dozens of train cars. And it’s so busy, Edmonton Transit has crews working in there about 22 hours a day.

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Equipment is so powerful it can lift a train up in the air.

“There’s a lot of equipment actually within the car that is stored underneath the vehicle,” said David Webb, General Supervisor, LRT Fleet Engineering and Maintenance. “It allows our passengers to have space in the car.”

And keeping the trains clean is no easy feat either.

“The trains come in here at night, they are parked by the drivers and we clean the trains,” Webb added. “We have about a two-and-a-half hour window to clean the trains in the evening.”

If you have any Off Limits story ideas for our next series, please email us at edmontonofflimits@globalnews.ca.

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