LRT full-service train testing 'compressed,' public inquiry hears
Longer testing period could have identified problems, safety certifier says
Ottawa's final testing of the Alstom light-rail trains was "compressed" and allowed the trains to go into full service without fixing existing issues or identifying new ones, the LRT public inquiry heard Tuesday.
According to Lowell Goudge, who was both the train system engineer for the Confederation Line and the train safety certifier for the project, it wasn't until the spring of 2019 that more than one or two trains ran on the main line at any one time.
The city took possession of the $2.1-billion system weeks later on Aug. 31, 2019.
"It was only as we approached the summer of 2019 that we started running multiple trains," Goudge testified.
One of the commission's lead counsels, Christine Mainline, asked Goudge if he thought the timeline "provided very little time to bring the system up to full speed."
Goudge replied "It seemed rather compressed. Yes."
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He was careful to say that he wouldn't have signed off on the trains if he wasn't sure they were safe for passengers, but he did testify that longer testing could have identified problems that plagued the new system.
He said that any new system will experience some early failures when the full system is running that were never seen before. Issues that were identified can also become more frequent — and hence a problem — once the entire system is running.
"You miss things, as well," Goudge told the commission running the inquiry.
"The more things you have running and moving and working, the more probability you have of discovering problems."
Door software, power issue already known
Then there were problems that were already known, but everyone moved ahead with opening the light rail system anyway.
One was the tendency of the train to lose power. It wasn't a safety issue — an immobile train is a safe train, Goudge told the commission — but the problem caused a lack of train availability.
Goudge said by the time the Confederation Line was being handed over to the city, the auxiliary power issue was known by all parties.
"Through trial running, we'd had an unacceptable failure rate and we had trouble getting technical support from the vendor," Goudge said.
This auxiliary power issue is still being addressed today.
There were other outstanding issues that could impact reliability, the inquiry heard, including issues with door sensitivity in the early days: if someone tried to stop the doors from closing, it would shut down the train.
Although there was a software update that could address the issue, it would have required a safety certification that would have taken a couple of months.
"So what we chose to do is roll the software back" to a previous software version that was already certified as safe, said Goudge. "Even though there were reliability issues."
Both these issues were waived by the city, as were a number of others.
One such issue related to the door cab where the vehicle operator sits. The glass in the door was prone to cracking, so the entire door was replaced with one that was acrylic, even though the material "did not meet flammability requirements," said Goudge.
'A big hiccup'
Alstom was delayed in its initial testing of its trains much earlier in the project as well, the inquiry heard.
The train maker was supposed to have access to about four kilometres of double tracks on the east end of the mainline in late 2016. Instead, it was only able to test its first two light rail vehicles on a short piece of track in the rail yard until a year later.
"That was a big hiccup in the testing program," the commission heard Tuesday from Jacques Bergeron, who worked for Rideau Transit Group's construction offshoot, OLRT Constructors.
Bergeron, who was hired as the systems integrator for the train and the computer system that runs it, said the main reason for the Confederation Line's delay was the lateness in the availability of the track.
Another problem? The rail gauge — the distance between the two rails — was narrower by a few millimetres than the design called for, confirmed Bergeron.
That caused "climbing issues" for the bogies, or vehicle undercarriages, which required trains to be tested at about 20 km/h instead of 80 km/h or faster.
In answering a question from the Rideau Transit Group lawyer, Goudge conceded Alstom was also behind on its own schedule, including train assembly.
The public inquiry continues Wednesday, with testimony from Bertrand Bouteloup, the project lead from Alstom, and a panel of consultants from Parsons and Delcan.