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Communication breakdown, project mismanagement cited in Metro LRT Line audit

WATCH ABOVE: The Metro LRT Line to NAIT was supposed to open April 27, 2014, but it could be nearly two years after that date before it’s running as it should. What’s behind the boondoggle? Vinesh Pratap finds out.

EDMONTON — An audit released Thursday into the much-maligned Metro LRT Line project indicates design and construction officials knew there was a risk they’d run into significant delays. Those risks were identified as early as 2010, when staff were looking at the worst-case scenario for the project.

The audit said LRT design and construction staff knew the schedule could go off the rails by splitting the $665-million project into separate construction and signalling contracts. Under that format, the manager wouldn’t be able to control Thales and its timeline if there were any delays.

The audit said city staff knew what the risks were.

(Read the full audit below).

The signal system was supposed to be ready April 1, 2014 and ready for riders on April 27. The auditor said that was a tight turnaround. When Thales was negotiating its signalling contract, the timeline was shortened by four months. The audit said instead, it should have been extended.

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It found Thales underestimated how much time and effort was needed to retrofit the existing trains with new technology. Design wasn’t even complete before Thales issued its safety certification; the city later found 20 critical safety issues or concerns with it.

The auditor noted Thales began missing contract deadlines soon after the contract was awarded and continued to miss milestone dates throughout the course of the contract.

READ MORE: Signalling contractor fires back at city over Metro LRT Line opening 

The audit also revealed key project staff at Thales were changed a number of times throughout the design and construction phase – the first before the city’s initial kick-off meeting – and a breakdown in communication and ineffective leadership by the Metro Line team.

The audit was originally only meant to look into the reason for the delays. However during the course of the audit, project management issues were observed, so the scope was expanded to look into that.

The construction schedule for the line was altered when it became known the Thales signalling system would not be ready on time. Many of the issues that emerged throughout the project went undocumented, because “the culture at the time was to provide verbal rather than written reports.”

WATCH: An audit into the Metro LRT Line and its construction delays was released Thursday morning. The findings include that LRT design and construction officials were aware there was a risk they would run into significant delays. Michel Boyer provided further details.

There were also serious communication issues. When deadlines started to be missed, the city escalated issues to Thales’ senior management. But on the city’s side, the issues continued to be addressed at the project manager level until late 2013 because the team reportedly believed they were fully responsible for resolving them. The city’s senior management was not brought into the loop until late in the process.

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The audit also indicated the city’s transportation general manager did not formally let city council know there were problems until December 2013, when construction of the line was already supposed to be complete.

READ MORE: City considering second option to open Metro LRT Line

The audit found project management did not do a good job in the areas of scheduling, human resources and communications, and said a failure to follow contract management principles contributed to poor working relationships and, ultimately, the project’s breakdown.

So what recommendations came out of the audit?

The auditor suggested the city establish realistic deadlines and revise them in a timely manner if needed. The audit suggested more written reports to identify major issues, and that city council be notified earlier on when problems arise. The audit also said the city should review its contract management practices so it gets the best value and the city’s interests are protected.

Audit: Metro LRT Line- Aug. 14, 2015

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