TORONTO — The Ontario government has turned to a French manufacturer for light-rail vehicles as a backup plan if Bombardier fails to deliver railcars for transit projects in Toronto — a significant concern the provincial transit agency has been raising for months.
In an announcement on Friday, the provincial government said it had reached a $528-million agreement to buy 61 light-rail vehicles from Alstom in case plane and train maker Bombardier is found to be in default at the end of a court-ordered dispute resolution process.
The deal ratchets up a dispute between the province and Bombardier over the Montreal-based company’s ability to fulfil train orders in a city where gridlock has become an increasing frustration for hundreds of thousands of commuters.
Last month, an Ontario judge ruled that Metrolinx can’t cancel its $770-million contract with Bombardier to build light-rail vehicles for the Eglinton Crosstown, a transit line being built across a portion of Toronto, without first going through a dispute resolution process.
Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said that process could take up to a year, and if Bombardier “continues to fall even further behind,” the transit projects will be further delayed.
“Over the past many months, Metrolinx has had extremely serious concerns regarding Bombardier’s ability to deliver quality vehicles according to the contract schedule,” Del Duca said. “For example, the pilot vehicle that Bombardier presented this past winter, which was late, couldn’t move under its own power.”
Bombardier said in a statement that it is “ready, able and willing” to deliver the vehicles on time.
“As the minister and Metrolinx are well aware, these vehicles can be ready ahead of schedule and well before a single track has even been laid on the Eglinton Crosstown,” the company said, adding it is producing identical vehicles for the Region of Waterloo in Ontario that will be delivered by the end of the year.
“We’ve met each and every major LRV delivery milestone in the last eight months and the proof will be in the performance of these vehicles in Waterloo and on Eglinton,” the company wrote. “We have addressed the issues raised in the past and we are confident this will be upheld in the dispute resolution process.”
Of the 61 vehicles ordered from Alstom, 17 will be used for the Finch West LRT project in north Toronto. The other 44 will be used for the Eglinton Crosstown if Bombardier is unable to deliver. If the company comes through, those Alstom vehicles will be used for other projects, including the Hurontario LRT west of Toronto, Del Duca said.
This agreement gives Ontario more certainty that the Finch West and Eglinton Crosstown will open on time in 2021, he said.
“Alstom Canada is currently delivering quality vehicles on time for Ottawa’s Confederation line LRT,” he said. “Alstom vehicles are comparable in price. Alstom Canada is the only other supplier in North America able to meet the same high level of accessibility as Bombardier.”
Alstom Canada will also open an assembly facility in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area to deliver on the contract, Del Duca said, touting the job creation benefits.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking Friday north of Toronto, was asked to weigh in and said Ontario makes its own choices.
“In general we tend to respect the opportunity and the responsibility of municipalities or provinces to make decisions around procurement that is going to be based on both what they offer their citizens in terms of services and the price they’re asking their taxpayers to pay,” he said.
Ontario’s opposition parties said it’s a bit late for the government to be coming up with a back-up plan.
“This contract’s been signed for over seven years and now they’re finally paying attention?” said Progressive Conservative critic Michael Harris.
New Democrat Peter Tabuns cited problems the Toronto Transit Commission has also had in receiving Bombardier trains on time.
“What’s maddening is they’ve known for years there’s problems with Bombardier delivering,” he said. “They could have a few years ago gone to Bombardier and said, ‘look, you’re not delivering on the streetcars in Toronto, we have this deal with you, what are you doing to make sure that we don’t get stuck in the same position as TTC?’”