Serious delays of new sleek streetcar delivery hit Toronto transit renewal

The streetcar system of Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, is the largest such system in the Americas in terms of ridership, number of cars and track length, as Wikipedia describes. It is one of the few existing streetcar systems with its history dating back to the mid-19th century – 1861 – when a horse-drawn street railway began.

This Toronto streetcar system is now adding a new prize – a fleet of 204 21st-century, low-floor, safer and more comfortable, accessible streetcars to be manufactured by Montreal-based Bombardier and put into service completely by the end of 2019.

However, there are so far only 17 of such light rail vehicles – painted in red of the Canadian flag with broad white lines on the top and bottom of the vehicle body – in service in Toronto streets as of April. If everything went well as Bombardier has promised in the contract, more than four times the current number of new sleek streetcars should have been in service, carrying an average of over 290,000 citizens daily – including commuters, students and shoppers – on a more comfortable ride in bigger space.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) ordered 204 new light rail vehicles to put in service in its streetcar system, gradually replacing old models, to complete the renewal plan by the end of 2019 in a C$1.25 billion contact concluded in 2009 with the railway division of the world’s third largest commercial aircraft maker based in Montreal.

In the original plan, Bombardier was obliged to deliver 73 streetcars to the TTC by the end of 2015, but only a meager 14 such streetcars. Three more were delivered after January this year, making only 17 vehicles.

In response to angry protests and criticisms from the TTC, Toronto city officials, riders and citizens, Bombardier announced a downward revised delivery plan in late April, which is further below the delivery target promised in the downward-revised plan announced earlier this year. The Toronto mayor and the TTC CEO were all “outraged” and decided to file a damage suit against Bombardier.

In the latest announcement on April 25, Bombardier promised to “significantly accelerate” manufacturing of the ordered light rail vehicles and deliver 30 such vehicles to the TTC by the end of 2016. This means that the company will produce 13 more vehicles during the remaining eight months – fewer than two vehicles a month – as already 17 vehicles have been delivered. This is an appallingly slow pace, in view of the serious delivery delay of almost by a year.

Just a month earlier, after having been nudged by the TTC and the Toronto city, Bombardier had promised to produced and supply four streetcars per month to make the delivery total to 54 by the end of this year – though still far below the original plan of 73 vehicles to be delivered by the end of 2015. No wonder that almost Torotonians – riders and tax payers included – not only transit officials are all angry at Bombardier’s failure.

In coping with the serious delivery delays, the TTC has been refurbishing more than 200 old streetcars that had been planned to be replaced by new vehicles and conducting additional maintenance of the old streetcars, or in some routes, adding new bus service, to maintain service level for riders, causing lot of extra expenses. Riders have also to endure traveling in old jammed streetcars to commute when they would be able to enjoy more comfortable riding in new specious vehicles.

The TTC finally filed a damage suit against Bombardier, but according to terms in the contract, the damages would be paid only up to 5% of the contract, which means C$51 million at most – if the court ruled in favor of the TTC. This amount seems not enough to cover all expenses made necessary for the extra maintenance and refurbishing works to keep its service level.

Bombardier on its part took some remedial action. It appointed a new president of transportation for the Americas and decided to “use a second manufacturing plant in La Pocatiere, Quebec, along with an additional assembly line in an unspecified location to help with production that is currently being completed in Thunder Bay, Ontario – to accelerate the pace of delivery of the TTC light rail vehicle project.” (Toronto Star, April 25)

The company explains that some of the causes for the delays – problems with faulty parts shipped from the company’s Mexican plant, and quality control issues – will be solved by producing those parts at La Pocatiere plant.

With all these and other remedial measures, as well as the leadership change, Bombardier says it will be able to fulfill its promise of delivering all 204 streetcars ordered by the end of 2019. But, thinking of Bombardier’s “track record” thus far, no one seems to be taking the word seriously. In fact, the Globe and Mail reported: “If the company does get a total of only about 30 vehicles to Toronto by the end of the year, it will have to produce more than one a week from then through 2019.”

Both TTC chair Josh Colle and chief executive Andy Byford are openly doubtful about Bombardier managing to fulfill its promises, saying they would believe it when they see it. “We’re outraged about this,” Byford said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory also said he was frustrated with Bombardier’s inability to fulfill its contract. “Suffice it to say, I am completely dismayed at this. It is, you know, no way to do business.” (Globe and Mail, April 25)

These delivery delays for the TTC streetcar project also are threatening to affect unfavorably the new light-rail projects by Metrolinx, regional transit system between Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton area in Ontario. According to the Globe and Mail (April 26), there is increasing alarm at Metrolinx that the timeline to open two new Toronto transit lines in 2021 could be threatened by delays getting vehicles delivered. Metrolinx placed a C$770-million order for 182 light rail vehicles, but a prototype vehicle that was supposed to be delivered last year by Bombardier has not arrived.

As major Canadian media point out, Bombardier’s reputation in the country’s biggest city is being already undermined badly by this delivery problem, when Bombardier is seeking US$1-billion in federal support for its aerospace division, particularly its next-generation C-Series jet program.

The Toronto Star in its editorial (April 26) stressed that Bombardier’s argument that “a streetcar project have little to do with an ambitious airplane program” would not work, and said: “The link is credibility. If Bombardier blows through its promises on streetcars with such regularity, how can it be trusted to live up to whatever airplane deal it eventually strikes with Ottawa?”

(A latest news report said that Bombardier announced on May 2 that Delta Air Lines has concluded a formal contract to buy 125 CS100 jets – the largest contract Bombardier has won. Canada Air placed an order of 75 CS300 jets in February. Good news for troubled Bombardier, which had no order for its CS-series planes last year. Good news, if it can deliver the ordered planes.)

 

By Yoshikazu Ishizuka, TOCS senior consultant

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