A timeline of Bombardier’s excuses for not building Toronto’s new transit fleet
For the past decade, the Montreal-based vehicle manufacturer Bombardier has held a surprising amount of sway over the future of public transportation in Toronto. If it rides on rails, Bombardier is making it: the company has contracts to build the city’s new streetcars and subway trains, and it’s also putting together the light-rail vehicles that will run on the Eglinton Crosstown.
In retrospect, it turns out awarding all this vital work to a single manufacturer may not have been such a great idea. Although Bombardier recently announced, triumphantly, that it has met its latest delivery deadlines, Toronto’s streetcar order remains badly behind schedule (the TTC has received only 30 of the 204 new vehicles) and Metrolinx’s light-rail vehicle order appears to be in deep trouble. Every few months, it seems, there’s a new reason for the tardiness. Here, a timeline of Bombardier’s excuses.
July 2008: A fatal flaw
After a lengthy bidding process, Bombardier had emerged as the likely winner of a contract to build the TTC’s next-generation streetcar fleet. A slight problem soon emerged: on closer study, the TTC decided that Bombardier’s proposed streetcar design, as well as the designs of two other companies who were bidding on the contract, would likely derail on tight curves. After some design tweaks, Bombardier got the contract anyway.
April 2010: A bankruptcy
Already delayed, Toronto’s next-generation subway train rollout suffered a further setback when Bombardier informed the TTC that it wouldn’t be able to deliver the first of the new cars for a few more months because of theNew York–based company that was supposed to be manufacturing the sliding doors had gone bankrupt.
January 2015: Mexico
The National Post reported that Bombardier was laying off workers at its Thunder Bay assembly plant, in part because of problems importing streetcar parts from its factories around the world—particularly its plant near Mexico City. Even when the parts did arrive, they sometimes didn’t fit correctly.
May 2015: Still Mexico
Metrolinx told the press that Bombardier’s problems with its Mexican plant were also delaying the construction of vehicles for the Eglinton Crosstown. “Yes, we have in this case had issues in Thunder Bay, and we have had issues in Mexico,” a Bombardier spokesperson told the Star. “We were working on correcting them. Now they are corrected.”
June 2015: Or, mismanagement?
When TTC chair Josh Colle visited Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant to check on the city’s backlogged streetcar order, he returned full of confidence, in part because Bombardier’s leadership had told him that some of the senior managers in charge of the production line had been replaced.
October 2015: Mexico, again
Streetcar delays were so pervasive that the TTC had begun to consider legal action. Bombardier again blamed the production delays on its Mexican workers. This time, apparently, the south-of-the-border factory was crimping electrical connectors improperly.
September 2016: Who knows?
After missing another Metrolinx deadline, Bombardier didn’t bother with an excuse. A spokesperson told the Star that the company hoped to “accelerate the inspection process” in order to speed up delivery of the first Eglinton Crosstown vehicle.
January 2017: A new hope
Although Bombardier hasn’t delivered any streetcars since December, TTC spokesperson Brad Ross says the commission is expecting 40 of the new vehicles this year. “The TTC will continue to hold Bombardier to account and meet its 2019 target for all 204 cars,” Ross wrote in an email. “Bombardier remain confident that they will meet that commitment.”
This post has been edited to clarify that Bombardier was not the only manufacturer whose streetcar design the TTC deemed likely to derail on tight curves.