Edmonton city council calls for more funds to make up for ballooning costs caused by Metro Line delaysJuly 11, 2018
EDMONTON—Taxpayers are going to have to get out their wallets to see issues with the Edmonton Metro Line Light-Rail Transit (LRT) resolved, as councillors voted in an undefined budget variance Wednesday to compensate for costs caused by ongoing delays.
“It should come as no surprise that with delays and with the challenges we’ve had, we have additional costs for consultants on our side, some of which we may be able to recover in the fullness of time through the dispute-resolution process,” said mayor Don Iveson, speaking to media outside of council chambers on Wednesday.
French multinational company Thales was awarded the $55-million signal system contract in May 2011.
The City of Edmonton issued a notice of default to Thales in May, triggering a dispute-resolution process that will end either by Thales delivering by the end of this year a signal system that meets the standard originally promised, or with the city hiring another company to complete the signalling portion of the Metro LRT line.
The new Metro Line — running between the Health Sciences/Jubilee Station and NAIT — operates using train control technology that works by communicating between the train and the track, while the existing Capital Line uses a fixed-block signalling system that divides the track into blocks, ensuring there is at least one empty block between trains.
The new signalling system was supposed to allow Metro Line trains to weave between Capital Line trains, meaning overlapping stations would see trains arrive every two-and-a-half minutes.
But ongoing issues with the new signalling system have dragged the frequency of trains on the Capital line down and caused frustration among drivers at intersections where LRT trains cross traffic.
The Metro Line project was supposed to be complete by 2014.
“Regardless of which way this goes, we will have a resolution early in 2019,” said Adam Laughlin, manager of the city’s infrastructure department.
Iveson said because of the legal process triggered by the notice of default, he is unable to say how much money will be needed to cover these additional costs. Once the issue is resolved, Iveson said, all of the numbers will be made public.
“I want to be crystal clear that council approved today that we are potentially going to have to spend a bit more money to get to the finish line; that shouldn’t be a huge surprise given the complexity that we’ve had here,” Iveson said. “Exactly how much we’re going to have to invest to get to the finish line is still up for negotiation.”
The mayor said the city will work to recover those extra costs, which include ongoing consulting fees and money needed to identify an alternative signalling solution should Thales be unable to deliver by the end of the year.
“We’re going to be working to recover whatever costs we can through the legal mechanisms that are unfolding,” Iveson said, adding, “None of the money that council talked about spending today is for the contractor Thales. This would be other city costs related to getting the project to the finish line and getting over and done with this thing.”
The project is still well under the original $900-million estimate set when council approved building the new line, Iveson said, but the surplus has already been allocated to other city projects such as the SmartFare system.
“We’ve had big savings, but we’ve sent that money elsewhere. We can’t take it back,” Iveson said.
Laughlin said Thales has agreed to a revised schedule that would see them complete the signalling system on the Metro Line by the end of the year, but the city would have to conduct at least 12 more weeks of testing to confirm the signalling system is completed to the standard originally ordered.
Should Thales not be able to meet that standard by the end of the year, city officials will go ahead with bringing in an alternative.
“We’re doing everything we can to ensure that if Thales is not successful, we have a system in place,” Laughlin said.
Claire Theobald is an Edmonton-based reporter who covers crime and the courts. Follow her on Twitter: @clairetheobald