It is a piece of information that’s left one councillor “appalled” and another who describes the revelation as a “big surprise.”
On Tuesday, Edmonton City Council learned the Metro Line LRT signal system developed by Thales is best suited for above or below-ground mass transit —; not a surface-based line.
“Really, I’m surprised that it happened,” Councillor Tony Caterina said.
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“Going back to 2010, how would someone make that decision to use an unproven technology that wasn’t meant for this particular system?” Caterina now questions.
It was the Ward 7 representative who broached the subject during a council meeting. Deputy city manager Adam Laughlin confirmed the Thales signal system the city bought “is predominately used for systems that aren’t crossing at grade road crossings or pedestrian crossings.”
“It hadn’t been quite described like that before,” Ward 2 Councillor Bev Esslinger said.
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The system is described as communications-based train control or CBTC, and according to a city report, is used in 130 systems world-wide.
The report adds that Thales is involved with approximately 40 of those systems.
One is the SkyTrain, the rapid transit system serving Greater Vancouver.
The recently opened Evergreen SkyTrain extension in Greater Vancouver employs a Thales signal system.
Vinesh Pratap/ Global News
The SkyTrain is separated from all forms of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, unlike the Metro Line which goes through several major intersections.
“And it’s not even designed for the crossing systems that we put in place,” a frustrated Councillor Mike Nickel told Global News.
“I mean, what kind of administrative mindset does that?”
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After the critical piece of information was revealed on Tuesday, Mayor Don Iveson was quick to add context, pointing out Thales signed a contract with the city knowing the specifications of the street-level design.
“That’s all in the spec?” the mayor asked city administration.
“That’s correct,” Laughlin replied.
“Eyes wide open,” the mayor emphasized.
“Correct,” was the response back.
Frustrated by the ongoing problems, Edmonton City Council has directed Thales to fix all issues by April 30, 2018.
The company issued a short statement to Global News indicating it is “committed to delivering a safe and reliable CBTC System to Edmonton.”
The company did not answer our questions on what will happen if the deadline is not met, nor was there any response about the effectiveness of a CBTC signal system on a surface line.
“The first thing we really need to address —; some of our administrative deficiencies in this file,” Nickel said.
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As efforts continue to fix the Metro Line, there are questions about future extension plans into northwest Edmonton.
Will the city use Thales technology again or call on another company? And if that happens, will the new signals work with Thales technology, which a city report describes as proprietary?
“If we have to try a new system, I think it will be more difficult,” Esslinger said. “Every layer of a new system creates challenge.”
As Metro Line issues mounted, changes were made: there was a city audit, some senior staff let go and departments reorganized. The latest revelation hasn’t resulted in renewed confidence.
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“I hope that there’s no other surprises going forward,” Caterina said.