Metro LRT mess could be headed for courts, councillors say

The city appears to be gearing up for a legal battle over the long-delayed Metro LRT line, with councillors saying the matter could be tied up in the courts for years.

Company responsible for signal system claims it has been 'misrepresented' and the public 'misinformed'

The Metro Line runs every 15 minutes because of signalling issues when it was designed to run every five. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC )

The city appears to be gearing up for a legal battle over the long-delayed Metro LRT line, with councillors saying the matter could be tied up in the courts for years.

On Wednesday, the company responsible for the signalling system issued a statement that said it had been "misrepresented" and that "misinformation" has circulated about the new LRT Line.

​The city reacted within hours, and two councillors alluded to the possibility of lawsuits.

"I'm sure this is posturing for some kind of battle here," Coun. Dave Loken said of the Thales statement.

Loken said he expects there might be a lawsuit, but councillors are limited in what they can say about it.

Coun. Scott McKeen categorized the Thales claims as posturing and said the company's statement possibly has "implications down the road."

Asked whether that means a lawsuit, he said: "Yes, litigation."

Councillors were told earlier this week by a representative from engineering consultant Hatch Mott MacDonald that safety tests performed by Thales were "vaguely written" and inconsistent.

The city has also hired U.S. audit firm Rail Safety Consulting to find and address gaps in the safety documentation provided by Thales.

In its statement, Thales claimed the consulting firms don't understand the process used to commission the signalling system, which the company built and installed under contract.

Thales said the city has not identified what the safety issues are, and the company has not received the consultant's safety audit.

"We have not been advised of any actual safety issue or deficiency in either the design, the implementation or in the safety case for the system that we have provided," the statement said.

"We therefore do not understand the city's position that the system is deemed unsafe, when no such problem has actually been identified or articulated."

But McKeen insisted that councillors have to trust the advice from the transportation department and from outside consultants.

"We have to believe the evidence that was provided to us by administration, and two separate consultants, that there are gaps in the (safety) information," he said. "And we also have to err on the side of caution and safety."

An auditor's report on the Metro line is expected be released to the public Thursday.

Transportation manager Dorian Wandzura tip-toed through a minefield of reporters' questions about whether the matter will eventually end up in the courts.

"We're not worried about lawsuits," he said, "we're worried about getting into service."

Asked repeatedly where the blame rightly lies, he refused to directly criticize Thales.

"The reality is, this contract is 18 months late," Wandzura said. "Clearly, the city contracted for a service and expects to get it. The city is not designing or building or installing this product. We contracted in good faith for a product to be delivered in December 2013. "

McKeen said he has confidence in Wandzura, but he thinks the department has to make internal changes to the way it operates and communicates with the public and with council.

Asked if any city employees should lose their jobs over the boondoggle, McKeen said council has no powers to "tell Dorian Wandzura to fire this guy or that guy."

"We can't fire people," McKeen said. "And so we stomp our feet and gnash our teeth, and we are just as frustrated as everybody in the public. We want to find out where the fault lay. And you know what? That could take years of litigation."

In its statement, Thales also raised concerns about the "line of sight" operation that will be used by train drivers when the line launches Sept. 6.

Until issues with the signalling system are sorted out, city officials say it will be used initially on a restricted basis. That means drivers will rely largely on their eyes when operating the trains. Trains will run slower than normal, at a maximum of 25 km/h, giving drivers enough distance to stop if they see something on the tracks.

Thales said it cannot endorse that manner of operation because the city hasn't clarified its plans for using the signalling system. 

"If it is not, there will be NO signal protection or enforcement within this totally manual operation. Safety relies entirely on the motorman," the statement said.

"The consultant is described as having approved the Thales system suitable for training but no passenger operation. One can wonder why the Thales system [is] safe enough for the train drivers, but not the travelling public, and why NO signal protection is better for the public than the level of protection afforded the train operators during training."

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