Bombardier's troubles producing streetcars for the TTC are causing mounting concern at Metrolinx, which needs the manufacturer to come through on a $770-million vehicle order in time to open two new Toronto transit lines.
Light-rail projects along Eglinton and Finch Avenues are due to open in 2021. But there is increasing alarm at Metrolinx that this timeline could be threatened by delays getting vehicles. A prototype vehicle that was supposed to be delivered last year by Bombardier has not arrived, and time is beginning to run short.
Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins said the transit agency remains "fairly confident" about meeting the scheduled timelines for the two projects. But there is little time to waste, since it could take years to work out bugs in the prototype and then have Bombardier produce the 182-vehicle order.
"We are at the point that we are concerned about the fact that we haven't gotten our prototype yet," she said. "We need to be getting it this year."
Unlike the Toronto Transit Commission, which can refurbish old streetcars and continue to use them while waiting for Bombardier to finish its order, Metrolinx has no other vehicles to use on these lines. If the fleet is not ready by 2021, the projects cannot open on time.
A spokesman for Montreal-based Bombardier said he was confident that Metrolinx would get the prototype vehicle this year, and that the agency would receive the fleet it needs to open on time. Marc-André Lefebvre said that there were similarities between this and the TTC streetcar order, with both now being sped up.
"We are putting the final touches and looking at the final elements in all of our plans to accelerate the pace of delivery, and we'll be communicating everything to our customers in the next few weeks," he said.
The same promise is being made to the TTC, where executives are voicing outrage over the latest delays in getting their 204-streetcar order. Bombardier had originally promised 74 of the vehicles by the end of this year, a pledge that has repeatedly been reduced. The latest commitment is to have 30 of the new streetcars in Toronto by the close of 2016.
Although frustration and skepticism among Toronto politicians and TTC executives is palpable, there's also a glimmer of hope that Bombardier is displaying some new-found realism – and admitting there are limits to its financial and product-delivery capabilities.
The recent decision by Quebec pension fund giant Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec to become a 30-per-cent owner of Bombardier's train business, as well as the appointment of Alain Bellemare as chief executive of Bombardier Inc. last year, has brought a new focus on operational performance at the company after years of contract execution problems.
Less than a month after the Caisse announced its $1.5-billion (U.S.) investment in Bombardier Transportation on Nov. 19, the train unit's global president was replaced. Earlier this month, the head of the unit's Americas business, a finance specialist, was dismissed and replaced by an outsider with significant engineering and manufacturing experience.
That outsider, Benoît Brossoit, will be mandated to improve the company's performance and competitiveness in the region, the company said. TTC chief executive officer Andy Byford, who said he was accustomed to hearing "hopelessly overoptimistic" or "heroic" promises, found a different tone when Mr. Brossoit arrived.
"In terms of making progress, it's kind of perverse in a way, but there's progress in that I think this new guy is at least giving me the worst-case scenario," Mr. Byford said, describing a meeting Friday with the new Bombardier executive.