The city spent four days testing the Metro Line’s alternative signalling system last week, which included a complete closure of the LRT system over the weekend.
In a statement Monday, the city said testing and commissioning work over the weekend was successful. The Metro Line started operating on the new Alstom signalling system first thing Monday morning.
“The Metro Line is now officially operating on the new Alstom signalling system. The city is no longer using the Thales system,” communications advisor Katie Stewart said in an email Monday afternoon.
Bruce Ferguson, branch manager of LRT expansion and renewal with the City of Edmonton, said Tuesday the new system is ready to go and is safe.
“We have a fully functioning signalling system on the Metro Line and it really gives us the ability to provide the level of service that we want to provide.”
“It’s a very positive step, it’s been a long time coming,” Ward 2 councillor Bev Esslinger said.
“We’re looking to have an efficient, safe, reliable system from now into the future.”
Ferguson said the final testing over the weekend was a culmination of testing that had been performed throughout the process of bringing the new system online.
“The Alstom system is a combination of software and hardware — or equipment that’s installed along the trackway,” he explained.
Ferguson said the hardware was tested in the factory, then again when it was installed in Edmonton. The software develops parallel to that, he explained.
“Then the system is put together and tested and there’s a whole series of what’s called integration tests that are done when you’re pulling the system together. There has been testing all along,” he explained.
“There’s been some trials, typically at night in off-peak hours so people don’t really notice them. And then we’ve also been running the Alstom system in parallel to the Thales system for probably the last month or two and that’s just to identify issues that may come up and then what we do is on the last weekend, there’s a series of integration tests — it’s actually a huge series of checklists and tests that they’ve been going through over the weekend.”
Ferguson said stressing of the system was performed over the weekend, as well as a final set of tests.
“They load up the system and then they create scenarios and they see how the system responds to that, they work through all of their checklists and then at the end, Alstom has to certify that the system is safe,” he said.
“As the signal provider and as the corporation that we’ve hired to do this, they need to certify to us on behalf of their company that the system is safe, it’s stable and it can be put into revenue service. Once they do that, then we also work with our installation people in Edmonton Transit and our consultants do the same sort of thing.
“When both of those come together, which it did very late Sunday night, then we made the decision to go live on Monday morning.”
The Metro Line experienced several issues after opening to riders in September 2015, including crossing arms coming down on green lights and trains heading in opposite directions on the same set of tracks.
“Edmontonians have, for five years, put up with long delays and system failures and gates that are coming up and down without trains being there. I think they’ve been incredibly patient and we thank everyone for that,” Ferguson said.
In November 2019, the city announced a brand new signalling system would be installed on the Metro Line.
The announcement of the new system came after years of issues and back-and-forth with the original signalling contractor Thales, which ultimately ended in the city terminating its contract with Thales Canada in April 2019.
The city is in the process of trying to recoup costs from Thales. The signalling contract with Thales is worth $55 million. The city had already paid $33 million and said in 2018 it will withhold the remaining $22 million after deadlines were not met.
“Unfortunately, I am not in a position to comment more on that. But we are going through that process with the expectation that we’re going to recover our costs.”
Esslinger said the city learned lessons about project procurement from the experience with Thales, but also admits the city has to regain people’s trust in the LRT.
“Hopefully we’re at a point where we’re building that back and this is a step in that direction.”
The city hired French company Alstom to install the new signalling system. The company planned to use a fixed-block system, which has been used on the Capital Line since it opened.
The city said this type of system controls trains based on sections of track called “blocks.” Each block is protected by signals that prevent a train from entering an occupied block.
Ferguson said the city is very pleased with the way the system is performing so far, but added more tweaks will be made in the coming weeks.
“The system is operating, it’s stable. We’re still going to be doing some tweaks to it over the next few weeks, especially when it comes to messaging and things like that — some of the digital messaging — you can’t really test that until you’ve got trains running with passengers.”
Work will also get underway to make operational improvements, such as intersection performance. Ferguson said one example is improving wait times at the intersection of Princess Elizabeth and 111 Avenue.
“Even when we first opened the Thales system, I think some of the wait times were around five minutes. We did tweak it to the extent that we could over the last few years — it was down to about one to two minutes — and we’re hoping that we can make improvements on that as well,” he said.
“From a driver’s perspective, less time waiting with gates down and waiting for the LRT to cross.
“From a passenger’s perspective, what this will allow us to do is also ultimately get back to our original plan, which is trains every five minutes on Capital Line, with trains every 15 minutes on the Metro Line. And that portion of the track where they overlap, which is every two and a half minutes, we’re going to be able to get to that as well.”
Global News reached out to Thales Canada but the company declined to comment.