Thales says Metro LRT signalling system is ready to run

WATCH: The Metro LRT is ready to run as designed, according the Thales, the signalling contractor. But the city isn't bumping up its deadline yet. Vinesh Pratap tells us why.

According to the contractor in charge of the Metro LRT Line’s signals, the system is ready to go, as designed. In fact, Thales says the signalling system was ready after it was tested over the summer.

“We’ve advised city we believe the system is ready to start the transition to using the full capability after the demonstration that we did in August.”

The vice president of Thales spoke to Global News on Friday, saying the communications-based train control system is ready to go now. Dave Beckley would like to see a gradual integration of the system, perhaps running it on the Metro Line one day a week to start.

“We think it would be a good thing to do to help move the system into service,” he said.

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“We think the best thing to do to demonstrate the capability is to put the system into service starting in a staged manner.”

READ MORE: New Metro LRT plan includes Thales deadline, bridge over Yellowhead, proposed train to St. Albert

Beckley said Thales has indicated this to the city but wouldn’t say how city officials responded.

“You’ll have to ask the city.”

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The news comes less than two months ahead of the December deadline for Thales to hand over a fully-functioning signal system to the city.

READ MORE: Edmonton serves notice of default to Metro LRT signalling contractor

Earlier this year, the city issued a notice of default to Thales. A new timetable was established to finish fixing all the remaining issues in the system, with a date of Dec. 4 to finally hand the system over to the city to operate.

Watch below: Edmonton LRT signal contractor says system along Metro Line will be running full speed by Dec. 4

Edmonton LRT signal contractor says system along Metro Line will be running full speed by Dec. 4
Edmonton LRT signal contractor says system along Metro Line will be running full speed by Dec. 4

Issues included trains heading in opposite directions ending up on the same track near NAIT.

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“That was a routing issue,” Beckley said. “The system has a lot of complexity in it… With that complexity comes flexibility. That routing issue, we identified what the issue was, we resolved the issue. That was resolved when we did the demonstration [in August] and we saw no repetitive scenarios of that during our demonstration with 26 trains.”

READ MORE: Two trains headed in opposite directions on the same track, and other Metro Line LRT issues

One of the big tests of the system happened in August when Thales purposely overloaded the tracks and created huge congestion — a stress test of the system.

“We ran 26 trains. Twenty-six trains is seven or eight more than the planned roll out of the Metro and Capital lines with current system geography and the system ran really well,” Beckley said. “A lot of trains moving through the downtown core in tightly knit patterns and the system responded.

“Everything operated safely. So I’m very happy with the outcome.”

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READ MORE: Drivers could be stuck at LRT crossing for up to 16 minutes: Metro LRT update

Another concern was the amount of time crossing arms were staying down at ground-level LRT crossings.

“There are a lot of level crossings on this system,” Beckley said.

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“There’s always work to be done to optimize the operation of them. It’s a tricky scenario. The Metro Line – 13 crossings, pedestrian and road in 3.3 kilometres. That’s a very big number.”

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When Thales intentionally overloaded the system, some crossing arms were down for eight minutes, Beckley said. However, Thales said realistically, a wait wouldn’t be more than 2.5 minutes.

READ MORE: Entire Edmonton LRT system temporarily shutting down for signal testing

Several times, the entire system has been shut down to test the signals on the Metro LRT Line.

Watch below: Edmonton looking at alternate signal contractor for LRT

Edmonton looking at alternate signal contractor for LRT
Edmonton looking at alternate signal contractor for LRT

The next test will be another “automated functionality portion” which will happen over the next weeks and months, Thales said.

Beckley stressed the best test will be to actually run the system.

“When you have a highly-integrated system like this, it’s not just the CBTC system; it’s the people that operate the system, it’s the motormen that drive the trains.

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“What we found was with the human behaviour mixed in with the system behaviour, there were some things that were discovered like, ‘Oh, that’s not the best way it could work. We need to address that.'”

READ MORE: Edmonton city councillor calls for probe of Metro Line LRT after latest glitches: ‘I’m starting to get concerned’

The stress test also uncovered some other issues that Thales is in the process of fixing, Beckley said.

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“None of the things we did find were of an operationally significant nature that led us to believe the system wasn’t ready to be used. We believed the best way to shake out the system, to make sure that the people who operate the system are ready to use the system, is to run it and use it.”

“We think we’ve delivered a system that is going to meet [the city’s] needs and expectations.”

Global News reached out to the city for comment on Thales’ announcement.

In a statement, a spokesperson said the city’s position has not changed.

“We are focused on getting a fully operational signalling system on the Metro Line. The city has and will continue to work co-operatively with Thales to achieve its Dec. 4, 2018 deadline. The city will then test the signalling system to ensure Thales has met its contractual obligations.

“City council has given us clear direction to move forward with an alternative plan, and we are in the process of hiring a contractor to install an alternative signaling system in the event the Thales system is not completed or validated,” the statement reads. 

The Metro Line carries more than 34,000 passengers each weekday and continues to be reliable and safe, the city said.

“We’re holding the contractor to account to deliver what they promised — almost a decade ago now — that they would be able to do,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “The technical folks will be able to give you a better sense of exactly where that’s at. Council hasn’t had a briefing recently.”

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READ MORE: Edmonton’s Metro Line suffers yet another signalling issue: crossing arms come down on green light

In response to Thales saying the system is ready to go, Councillor Scott McKeen said he’d want to get the OK from city staff first.

“We have made-in-Edmonton standards around safety and efficiency, and before I could take the word of anyone… We’ve had to hire our own consultants to double-check things. I don’t know how everybody else on council feels, but we just want to be secure that we have a system there that will be safe and will be efficient and will not be causing us problems every week or two weeks.

“All we’ve ever asked is for the contractor to deliver on what was promised and if they’ve done that, I think that would be great news, even though it’s a bit late,” he said.

“This has been a confounding and extremely frustrating file for everyone on council and administration. We just want it done.

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“There’s been a lot of reputational damage to the City of Edmonton because of this and that frustrates me too,” McKeen said.

A few weeks ago, a deputy city manager said the testing on the system was “an ongoing exercise.”

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As a contingency plan, the city developed a backup plan in case officials aren’t satisfied with the Thales system. It would be based on the old signal technology used on the Capital LRT Line.

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