Metro LRT signalling system still not safe to run full speed

An independent auditor found the Metro Line is still not safe enough to run at full speed between NAIT and Churchill Station.

City staff now hope to run trains every two and a half minutes by next year

A train on the Metro LRT Line passes by NAIT. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC )

An independent auditor has found the Metro LRT Line is still not safe to run at full speed between NAIT and Churchill stations, and likely won't be for at least three more months.

City council had hoped to get a definitive answer Tuesday about the reliability of the line's signalling system.

Rail Safety Consulting reviewed the contractor's safety case for the signalling system and found the line can start to pick up speed, but not at road intersections.

Riders could start to see minor improvements to the speed of the trains in two weeks.

But with five intersections along the 3.3-km line, the trains will not run at 50 km/h, as they were expected to.

"I don't think the train is going to move that much faster," said Mayor Don Iveson. "That might shave a minute off the trip. It's not significant."

City administration said they don't know how much travel times would improve by intermittently increasing the speed of the trains.

"It's a bit of a feeling-out process," said Adam Laughlin, general manager of integrated infrastructure services.

Little confidence in new timelines

Delays on the signalling system and problems with the safety documents have dogged the line since April 2014, when it was initially supposed to open.

Since September 2015, trains have operated on the line at reduced frequency, and at a maximum speed of 25 km/h, giving operators time to stop if they see something on the tracks.

Laughlin said there are still serious safety issues with turning the line up to full speed. For example, there are still examples of the traffic arms not lowering, even as trains approach intersections.

He said the city now hopes to have the line moving at full speed between NAIT and MacEwan stations by August 2016.

The city plans to run trains every two and a half minutes by the beginning of 2017.

At this point though, the new timelines are only projections.

"I think the history of this project has shown we struggle meeting that, predominantly because of the performance of Thales," Laughlin said.

Frustrated councillors questioned whether the problems with the line would ever be fixed.

​"At some point, this is going to be up and running 100 per cent?" asked Coun. Michael Oshry.

After a long pause, Laughlin answered, "Yes."

No ribbon cutting for long delayed project

The city has recently seen more signs of co-operation from Thales, he said.

Iveson said the city is trying to be transparent with the public about progress on the project, but said the problem is mostly outside of its control.

"We're working hard to hold the contractor accountable, but we can't make the software work ourselves," he said.

Iveson has yet to take his first ride on the line. He said he wouldn't take the train until it was fully up and running. At this point, that will be nearly three years from the original opening date.

Now, he said he may settle for riding the line when it runs full speed, even if the trains aren't running at full frequency.

Coun. Mike Nickel asked when the city can officially cut the ribbon on the Metro Line.

"Quite frankly, I would not have a ribbon cutting, given the history of this project," city manager Linda Cochrane replied.

Iveson said a collective sigh of relief when the line finally works will be celebration enough.