It’s news that three years ago would have seemed unthinkable to many Toronto transit riders, but Bombardier says it’s within touching distance of meeting the deadline for delivering the TTC’s new streetcar fleet.
According to the Quebec-based manufacturer, as of July it has produced 166 vehicles for the $1-billion, 204-car order, which is supposed to be complete by the end of 2019.
In the second quarter of this year Bombardier says it produced 23 of the cars, and if it maintains that rate it would be able to supply the remaining 38 in the final six months of the year.
Meeting the year-end deadline would mark a major turnaround for a company that in earlier phases of the order appeared to be floundering as manufacturing problems led to it falling short of its production commitments, even as it repeatedly revised them downward.
“We made significant investments over the last two years to deliver on our promise. For the second year in a row, we have doubled the number of TTC’s streetcars manufactured in Thunder Bay and Kingston and we are on track to meet our commitment to complete the delivery of the remaining cars by the end of 2019,” said Bombardier spokesperson Eric Prud’Homme in an email.
The 23 cars produced in the second three months of this year are the most the company has supplied in any quarter for the TTC’s streetcar order, which the transit agency placed in 2009.
According to the TTC, as of Thursday the agency had received 162 of the vehicles. Bombardier said the other four were en route to Toronto.
In recent years Bombardier’s well-documented production woes have frustrated Toronto politicians, TTC officials and riders, and put the company under heavy scrutiny.
After signing the deal with the TTC, the company stumbled badly out of the gates and by the end of 2015 had managed to supply just 14 new cars, far fewer than the 73 it was supposed to according to a schedule the two parties agreed to in 2012.
In 2017, the company launched a turnaround plan to get the order back on track. Bombardier says in the past three years it’s invested more than $20 million in its streetcar program, and in 2018 it opened up a new production line at its Kingston, Ont. facility to complement manufacturing at its factory in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Bombardier spokesperson Kaven Delarosbil didn’t directly answer a question about whether the company believes meeting the 2019 deadline would restore its reputation among Toronto transit users.
“We received positive feedback from riders and the TTC about our cars, made by Ontarians for Ontarians. We are proud that they will be part of the city landscape for the next 30 years,” he said.
Even as Bombardier has sped up delivery, the new streetcars haven’t been problem free.
Internal emails previously reported on by the Star show that last year TTC officials privately expressed concerns the company was regularly deviating from proper quality control procedures as it ramped up production, and that as of early this year the portion of the new fleet that had arrived in Toronto required thousands of modifications or repairs.
The vehicles still haven’t met a contractual reliability target that should have been achieved in early 2018, as problems with braking systems, doors, communication equipment and other components force the cars out service more often than planned.
Recent figures show reliability is improving, however. Delarosbil said the company is working to address reliability issues and is on track to meet the contractual target by the end of this year.
Last July, Bombardier revealed it would have to recall the first 67 cars it delivered to fix a welding defect. So far, seven vehicles have been removed from service to undergo the welding repairs, according to the TTC. Both the company and the transit agency say the repair program will be carried out in a way that will minimize the impact on TTC customers, and Bombardier plans to complete them all by the end of 2022.
And while Bombardier could meet the final deadline, the TTC says the company’s earlier production delays have already negatively affected service.
Under the 2012 schedule, Bombardier was supposed to have delivered 184 of the vehicles by the end of last year, but according to the TTC by that time it had received less than 120.
The TTC says the delays left it with a shortage of vehicles as the agency was forced to retire its older streetcars. In some cases, the agency has had to use replacement bus service on streetcar routes, which is more expensive to operate.
The TTC board voted in 2015 to take legal action against Bombardier over the delays. In January the two sides reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr