Alstom was ‘pushing the limit’ of what a tram can do, survey finds

Watch Friday’s hearing here:

Trainmaker Alstom has created a vehicle for the Confederation Line that did not yet exist that ‘pushed the limits’ of what a light rail car can do, the LRT public inquiry heard on Thursday from Ottawa.

The City of Ottawa wanted to move 24,000 passengers per hour in each direction, which was “exceptional” and more in line with subways than light rail, said Yves Declercq, Alstom’s light rail product manager who testified in French on Thursday.

The subways are more “robust” than light rail streetcars, Declercq explained, adding that the company had even replaced the streetcar’s engine with the one it used in New York’s subways.

“We were pushing the limit,” Declercq said, referring to the trains the company ended up designing to run on the Confederation Line. “And that explains, in part, the problems that arose later. So we were at the limits of the concept and encountered new problems that we don’t usually encounter.”

The executive of Alstom also clarified that the city knew from the summer of 2012 that the light rail it demanded did not already exist.

WATCH | Alstom says the new LRT train “pushed the limit” of what a light rail vehicle could do:

Alstom says new LRT train ‘pushed the limit’ of what a light rail vehicle could do

Yves Declercq, the director of light rail products for Alstom, told the LRT inquiry on Thursday that the Citadis Spirit, developed for Ottawa’s Confederation Line, “pushes the limit” of what light rail could do, which led to problems when opening the system.

Short Notice Proposal

Alstom became a subcontractor to Rideau Transit Group in an unusual way, Declercq told the commission.

It had previously tried to bid on the Confederation Line with another consortium, but was unsuccessful. This RFQ in 2011 outlined how Ottawa wanted to carry 12,000 passengers per hour per direction on opening day, with the possibility of doubling that ridership in the 2030s or beyond.

Alstom was surprised when Rideau Transit Group (RTG) came calling in June 2012, asking them to offer a train to Ottawa after RTG’s first choice, by Spanish company CAF, was disqualified by the city.

It was “very rare” for a company to join a tender after being eliminated, Declercq told the committee.

Within weeks, Alstom was in a meeting with RTG and the city – the one and only meeting Alstom attended with the city before the contract was signed – outlining the train it could offer.

The Alstom Citadis Spirit which operates on the Confederation Line is based on the existing Citadis Dualis model used in places like Nantes, France. The Spirit model developed for the North American market is longer, had to be adapted to American electric rail standards (as opposed to European standards), and had to be adapted to Canadian winters because the Dualis only operated in temperatures as low as -25C.

Alstom told the city at this summer 2012 presentation that it was confident it could adapt its existing vehicle – for example, it had winter technology on other train models used in Sweden and Russia – but that it was transparent that the vehicle the city wanted did not exist.

“We never said the train was developed and ready to go,” Declercq said. “I think the presentation was very clear on what was there, how we would develop the model and how it differs from existing models.”

An outside City of Ottawa lawyer, Jesse Gardner, later pointed out that Declercq had not told the City that his requirements were at the limit of what a light rail vehicle could do.

Gardner then asked Declercq if Alstom had finally supplied vehicles that met the contract requirements, and Declercq agreed that it had.

LOOK | A vehicle adapted by the train manufacturer LRT for the Ottawa light rail line, the investigation concerns:

Vehicle adapted by train manufacturer LRT for Ottawa’s light rail line, investigation heard

Yves Declercq, director of light rail products for Alstom, said the company made it clear during a presentation in 2012 that the train Ottawa officials wanted for the new light rail line did not yet exist. and should be developed for the project.

Alstom accuses Ottawa route of not being compliant

These trains were manufactured in Ottawa, although Alstom felt the workforce lacked skills.

Alstom had no other choice because the city required a 25% Canadian content rule in order to secure funding from higher levels of government, Declercq explained.

Since Canada had no parts to sell, Alstom had to bring in Canadian labour.

Declercq testified that there were other issues with the way his trains came together. The computer train control system automatically controls acceleration and deceleration and was provided by another company.

The axle of a LRT train on Ottawa’s Confederation Line broke on August 8, 2021. According to Alstom, one of the root causes of this derailment is that parts of the track are not compliant . (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Then there are the tracks themselves. Alstom’s position is that the track Ottawa’s light rail trains run on is “non-compliant” and contributed to the derailment nearly a decade later in August 2021 when a train axle broke. is broken.

Declercq said Alstom had seen such a problem before on its Dualis trains with wheel hubs, but the problem happened much faster in Ottawa than he had seen before.

The company investigated and discovered that other axles were damaged. Alstom’s own experts believe the root cause is ‘fretting’, or the way the rail put pressure and wear on the wheels.

RTG disagrees with what it calls Alstom’s “preliminary findings”, which it says were completed without third-party experts.

Hearings resume Friday with Antonio Estrada, who was CEO of RTG from 2013 to 2018.

Jose P. Rogers