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Rob Ford, TTC CEO in conflict over sale of tunnel machines

The start of tunnel construction as part of the Toronto-York Spadina subway extension project on June 17, 2011

Gregory Snow/Courtesy of TTC/TYSSE

Mayor Rob Ford and TTC CEO Andy Byford remain at an impasse over the sale of the transit company's boring machines after a closed-door meeting Wednesday.

"Our advice would be to sell those machines if we were able to find a buyer. Now, the mayor disagreed with that, and I respect his opinion," Mr. Byford said after the meeting.

The TTC purchased four tunnel-boring machines in 2009 for the Spadina subway extension at a price of $51.7-million. Chinese company Lovsuns Tunneling Canada Ltd. was set to buy them for $9-million, until they pulled out of the deal on Sunday.

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Mr. Ford – the self-proclaimed "subway mayor" – wants to keep the boring machines for the city's future expansion projects, and called a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Byford to discuss the TTC's decision to sell them.

"Why would we get rid of these boring machines when we're going to build subways, we're going to continue building subways?" Mr. Ford said in a media scrum afterward.

However, Mr. Byford said the sale would have no bearing on any new subway projects, especially since construction for the Scarborough line won't be starting until 2018. By then, he said, the old machines will be out of date. The new machines will cost about $3-million more than refurbishing the old ones, he said, adding that the new machines would also be covered by a warranty, whereas the old ones would not.

"We believe the new machines, when we come to purchase 2018, are that much more efficient that you tunnel more quickly, therefore the tunnelling duration is shorter, therefore you accrue greater savings," he said.

Mr. Ford, on the other hand, maintained the city should repair the machines rather than buy new ones.

"We're not in the business of just using them, selling them and purchasing new ones, that's not good use of taxpayers money. Just like people do in their own households, something breaks down, you try to fix it," he said.

At a news conference Wednesday morning, mayoral candidate Olivia Chow weighed in on the sale and said the decision on the machines should be left up to the experts.

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"That's up to the experts, because technology changes, it may get advanced," she said. "Whatever way to recoup some money – whether it's to save the old ones or buy new ones – that's really up to the experts to decide."

Although the TTC does not have another buyer lined up, Mr. Byford said he is hopeful they will find a purchaser.

With a report from Ann Hui

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