For the first time since its planned launch seven years ago, Edmonton’s Metro Line LRT is operating on a fully-functioning signalling system.
Transit crews made the switch to an alternative fixed-block system before LRT service resumed Monday morning. The system was built as a back-up plan to the beleaguered communications-based system created by Thales Canada. The city found many issues with the Thales technology and terminated its contract in April 2019 but continued to use the incomplete system with reduced train speed and frequency.
A fixed-block system, which is currently used on the Capital Line, uses sensors to ensure only one train is operating in a specific area at a time.
Now with the new technology in place, the city said it will be able to operate the 3.3-kilometre line from Downtown to NAIT at full speeds, reduce traffic wait times at intersection crossings and restore five-minute train frequency on the Capital Line.
Trains running on both lines will be able to pass within 2 1/2 minutes of each other through the Downtown tunnel, which will also allow for five-minute frequency on the Metro Line when the demand and equipment is there. For now, Metro Line trains will continue to regularly operate every 15 minutes.
Before the switch over the weekend, the Thales system had a final issue that caused the Capital Line to shut down Thursday evening. Craig McKeown, the city’s director of LRT operations and maintenance, said the Thales servers that run communications for the ETS control centre failed.
Only the Capital Line was running Thursday evening after the Metro Line was closed down for testing of the new signalling technology. The cause of the server failure is unclear and is considered “unique,” but McKeown said the Thales servers will no longer be used with the new technology in place. Testing of the new system over the weekend was successful and allowed the city to move forward with permanent installation.
The line was initially supposed to open with the complete signalling system in April 2014 but issues delayed the opening to September 2015. Since that time, the line has been operating with the modified Thales system.
Ward 2 Coun. Bev Esslinger said this change will provide reliable transit Edmontonians have been waiting for on the Metro Line and will be a major benefit when the line extends northwest to St. Albert. With all the issues with the more advanced communications-based system, Esslinger said she’s hopeful the city learned from the experience and will work to find a better balance in the future.
“We were trying to use something that was more nuanced, it was more cutting edge, and it didn’t work,” she said. “So it’s that balance of sticking with what we know to what’s possible and trying to find the right fit. Obviously, we’ve gone to something that’s more proven,” she said.
Construction on the new Alstom technology began in November 2019 and cost $30 million on top of $33 million already paid to Thales, which the city is fighting to recover through the courts.