Bombardier Inc., stung by accusations last week that its proposed new Toronto streetcar would derail, will defend the vehicle in a meeting Friday with transit agency managers, and is considering going over the heads of transit engineers to make its case to the nine city councillors that oversee them.
The company, the largest rail vehicle manufacturer in the world, says its streetcar design is safe and that it should not have been disqualified from the Toronto Transit Commission's request for proposals for its $1.25-billion streetcar contract.
Montreal-based Bombardier was the only major firm to submit a proposed vehicle, but both its bid and that of a tiny British firm were deemed "non-compliant" last week, sending the TTC's streetcar-based plans into disarray.
"It is safe," Bombardier vice-president Mike Hardt said in an interview yesterday when asked about the modified Flexity Outlook streetcar the company proposed. "It can handle the curves and the hills."
Bombardier sources said the firm was blindsided by the TTC's announcement last week that its streetcar design had flunked a technical test of how it would handle the city's tight turns and steep hills, and by accusations from TTC chairman Adam Giambrone that Bombardier had knowingly submitted a failing bid.
Company sources rejected the charge, saying the bid, a crate of five massive binders, cost $2-million to produce.
The TTC had said the company submitted its computer modelling on how the streetcar would handle Toronto's tracks using parameters other than those provided by the commission. Bombardier sources yesterday said they did so because the TTC explicitly asked bidders to do that.
According to the Bombardier sources, who spoke to The Globe and Mail on condition of anonymity, the dispute centres on a two-degree difference in the angle of the top of the rail underneath the company's low-floor streetcar's wheels.
The TTC, mindful that tracks can be worn down, asked bidders to model their vehicles with a 70-degree angle. Bombardier's vehicle "did not perform optimally" under this condition, company sources acknowledged. But the sources said the TTC had asked bidders to include "alternative parameters" to show how they believe their car would best perform.
Bombardier did so, suggesting a car designed for a 72-degree wheel-track interface that the company says would work on all but a tiny fraction of the TTC's tracks, which are in the process of being replaced.
Company sources said the TTC even acknowledged in a three-page response to Bombardier that this car would be safer than the one the TTC originally asked for. The sources also said some of the TTC's many requirements, on details such as the amount wheels that are allowed to ride up while a streetcar is operating, were well above industry standards.
A Bombardier source said yesterday that frustrations with the back-and-forth over technical standards has led to consideration of a direct meeting with TTC commissioners to pitch the Flexity streetcar to the politicians who must ultimately sign off on the deal.
Meanwhile, since last week's surprise announcement that the only two bids the TTC received - Bombardier's and the other from unheralded British firm TRAM Power Ltd. - were unacceptable, Bombardier's global competitors have expressed only lukewarm interest in pursuing the contract.
Siemens AG of Germany, an industry giant that surprised many by failing to submit a bid after mounting an expensive public-relations campaign, had said its decision was a product of the layoffs and restructuring the company announced recently, but that it would be open to new talks with the TTC.
Yesterday, Siemens spokesman Dirk Miller said the company had not yet received an "official invitation" from the TTC, and that the transit agency would have to change its specifications in order to get Siemens truly interested. TTC officials have said they have no intention of changing their specifications.
Czech company Skoda Transportation, whose light-rail cars ride rails across Eastern Europe and in Portland, Ore., has also signalled its intention to reconsider the TTC contract. But a spokesman said yesterday that the commission would have to give up its insistence on a completely low-floor accessible streetcar, and instead accept bids for 70-per-cent low-floor vehicles.
Charlie Hahn, Skoda's manager of U.S. operations, said the company would also need assurances that it actually had a chance and was not simply part of a process meant to put pressure on Bombardier's price. "It looked like we were going to be the comparison bid to try to help ... negotiate with Bombardier. We didn't feel like investing money in our proposal to be in that position."
With a report from Matthew Campbell