Metro Line LRT delayed again until Spring 2015, maybe, hopefully

The City held a press conference late this afternoon to provide an update on the Metro Line LRT extension to NAIT. They should have waited until February 2, because once again we learned that the opening of the new line has been delayed. The new target date is May 2015, more than a full year after the extension was originally slated to open.

2014-12-07 McEwan Station
MacEwan LRT Station in December 2014, photo by Darren Kirby

Today’s news release thanked Edmontonians for their patience and used much more careful language than previous delay announcements:

“Based on the most recent testing schedule provided by Thales Rail Signalling Solutions Inc., the City of Edmonton is cautiously optimistic the Metro Line LRT will open to public service in spring 2015.”

Cautiously optimistic is a long way from confident. The reason for the delay is the same thing we’ve heard since the project was first delayed – the contractor is having problems with the signaling system:

“Thales appreciates the patience of everyone in Edmonton as we work to complete the signaling system for the Metro Line,” says Thales Vice President Mario Peloquin. “We understand how important this essential transportation infrastructure is for the people of Edmonton, and we remain committed to delivering an outstanding product that is safe, efficient and reliable, and that will serve the city for generations to come.”

The signaling system is responsible for controlling train traffic. It tracks train movements and keeps them on schedule. Part of the challenge is that with the Metro Line, the City is changing the signaling system from a traditional fixed block system to a more modern communications-based train control system, or CBTC. It’s this new signaling system that will enable trains on the Metro and Capital lines to share the same tracks.

Even though construction completed on time and $90 million under budget, the Metro Line still isn’t open. The project has been delayed numerous times over the last year or so:

  • In September 2013, everything seemed on track for an April 2014 opening.
  • In December 2013, the opening was delayed a few months until Spring 2014.
  • In the Spring of 2014, the opening was further delayed until the end of the year. That schedule was reaffirmed over the summer.
  • In October 2014, the opening was delayed again, with February 2015 identified as the earliest possible date.
  • Now, in January 2015, the opening has been delayed until May 2015.

Needless to say, there’s very little confidence in the latest target date.

New Edmonton Arena Construction
MacEwan LRT Station next to the new downtown arena, September 2014

It was in October 2014 that Mayor Iveson called the delays “unacceptable” and asked the City Auditor to review how the project had been managed. Since then, the City has held back $20 million from the $55 million contract with Thales, and the auditor has been investigating.

Now the City says that the latest schedule from Thales would have the handover of the signaling system take place by March 23, 2015. If by some miracle Thales is actually able to meet that date, the City would need approximately 6 weeks to evaluate the system and complete staff training.

“We are very concerned with the ongoing delay of the Metro Line and will continue doing everything we can to hold Thales to their new schedule. Our goal remains the same: to open the Metro Line for safe, reliable public service as quickly as possible.”

On the Metro Line LRT site, the City has made available a slide deck and an FAQ, both in PDF.

metro line delayed

The FAQ tries to explain what has happened and attempts to provide some confidence that the City is providing “increased” project oversight to ensure it gets done. After the number of delays this project has experienced, you have to wonder if sticking with Thales is the right approach, but that’s what the City is doing:

“At present, our best option is to continue supporting Thales to deliver the signaling system. Our expectation is that Thales will meet its commitments. The City has strict project oversight to ensure they do so. If they fail to meet a milestone or if testing does not proceed according to schedule, the City will hold Thales to account.”

Let’s hope the sunk cost fallacy isn’t at play here.

The City says they are “tracking milestones on a daily basis” and have increased resources on the project. “We’re working diligently to help Thales deliver the signaling system by March 23, 2015.” The FAQ even says the City has explored the option of using people to manage train movements in an effort to get the new line open more quickly, but they ultimately decided that approach did not meet requirements for cost, safety, reliability, or efficiency.

Curiously, the final question in the FAQ is, “are you feeling badly about the delay, City of Edmonton?” Here’s the answer:

“Everyone involved with the Metro Line project regrets the delay of this exciting transportation project. We ask for your patience and hope you’ll continue to bear with us as we work towards bringing the Metro Line into service in spring 2015.”

So we’ll have to wait until late March before we can be sure the Spring 2015 opening is actually going to happen. In the meantime, we’d better make sure the same problems aren’t going to plague the Valley Line LRT extension.

  • Joseph Mason

    I used to complain about it but then again, I know nothing about the difficulty in performing this kind of work like the cliché saying, ‘easier said than done’. I’m sure they’re trying their best to get the system in 100% working order.
    Having ill attitude towards them would only breed resentment, so I’m just patiently waiting.

  • Bill Burris

    Skimming the FAQ from the city was interesting. It looks like they are turning the trains into self driving robots. Since there is differences in the control systems for trains of different age, this is not a simple problem. One aspect of this type of software that I didn’t see mentioned anywhere is security. The need to protect against cyber terrorism was probably not something they thought about much when the system was originally being planned.