A vehicle order from Bombardier that the government of Ontario is willing to open up to other suppliers is "very critical" to the company, its CEO said during a visit to Toronto.
Alain Bellemare spoke to the Empire Club of Canada primarily about the turnaround the Quebec-based firm has been undergoing in the 18 months since he took the helm. But he also acknowledged the problems plaguing two major orders for transit projects in Toronto.
"I became very disappointed with our performance right here in Toronto – TTC or Metrolinx – so I will just say that we made some significant changes," he said, citing a managerial shakeup and increased production capacity.
The Toronto Transit Commission has watched in frustration as Bombardier failed to meet a series of deadlines to deliver streetcars. The issue came up at a meeting of the transit agency's board – which took place around the time Mr. Bellemare was speaking – prompting a TTC spokesman to tweet a comment CEO Andy Byford made on Wednesday that "we have more [delivery] schedules than streetcars."
Bombardier has also been slow to produce the first light-rail vehicle of a large order for Metrolinx, the regional transit agency.
The Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday that the provincial government had privately signalled it is open to having other companies produce about two dozen of 182 vehicles ordered from Bombardier, enough to supply a planned light-rail line on Finch Avenue West.
The government recently told the three consortia competing to build the Finch LRT that they had the option to include vehicle procurement in their bids. Doing so would reduce the number of Bombardier vehicles Metrolinx needs. It is unclear how easily the contract could be altered.
"This is a project that's very critical for us. I mean, this is, despite what you might read, we are 100-per-cent committed and we have a good gameplan to start delivering the trains on time in 2018, up to 2021," Mr. Bellemare told the audience.
He expanded on the theme to reporters after the speech, saying the company is "highly confident" in its ability to fulfill the Metrolinx contract.
"In the end, the customer is always right," he said. "So our job is to make sure that they become comfortable with our recovery plan. We are … confident. But they need to be as confident as well. So it's our job to do that."
The consortia competing for the Finch project have been given an extra four months to prepare their bids. It is not clear whether the deadline extension would give them enough time to get a vehicle manufacturer to join them. Bombardier could still be chosen, but other companies are clamouring to get in on the action.
While the 23 vehicles for the Finch LRT are not a large order for a major manufacturer, this new government flexibility raises the prospect of other companies gaining a foothold in the Toronto market. Senior officials at both Siemens and Alstom made clear their companies would be keen to compete for this order.
The Finch line is planned to run 11 kilometres from a future station on the Spadina subway extension to Humber College. Construction is due to start next year and the line is scheduled to be operational by 2021.