The TTC has fallen behind on scheduled maintenance for its new $1-billion streetcar fleet, a lapse the manufacturer has warned could cause the vehicles to wear out prematurely and break down at higher rates.
In an email to TTC officials last month, a director at streetcar builder Bombardier claimed it had come to the company’s attention that “some time ago” the transit agency “stopped performing” a maintenance program each car is supposed to undergo once they’ve been in service for two years.
The transit agency has since confirmed it has “paused” the program, which it says was necessary to balance other required work and service demands, but it asserts the suspension of the work will have no long-term impact on the cars.
The Bombardier email has not been made public but was obtained by the Star. It was written Feb. 18 by the company’s TTC portfolio director Alexandre Paquet.
He told the transit agency that “without strict adherence to this maintenance plan, the TTC jeopardizes the performance of the (streetcars), risking premature wear, increasing failure rates, and impacting warranty coverage.”
Bombardier spokesperson Kaven Delarosbil said the company wouldn’t comment on the email “because it was sent to the TTC as part of our contractual relationship” and “we will not comment on private discussions between parties.”
But he asserted there was nothing wrong with the streetcars Bombardier has provided.
“Let’s be absolute and categorical, our vehicles are safe and reliable and our performance over the last few months has clearly demonstrated it,” he said.
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green confirmed in an email the agency “paused” the two-year program in October so it could deal with more urgent corrective maintenance on the streetcars, Bombardier’s ongoing weld repair program, and later, a track issue that knocked 25 cars out of service in November.
“Had we not paused this non-safety critical program, we would not have enough vehicles for service,” Green said in an email.
Although the Bombardier email stressed the importance of the program, Green described it as consisting of “the manufacturer’s recommendations — similar to those of a new car.”
The program includes tasks such as servicing, inspecting, or replacing car components like the gear box, driver controller, power unit, and doors.
Green said suspending the program will have “no impact” on the longevity of the cars, which are supposed to be the backbone of the TTC’s surface transit network for the next 30 years. While it’s paused, the fleet’s “systems and critical safety elements” will continue to be “regularly inspected.”
One TTC source who’s familiar with the maintenance program but spoke to the Star anonymously because they weren’t authorized to talk publicly about the issue said the maintenance issues stem both from the fact the streetcars require an overwhelming amount of work, and that the TTC has done a poor job keeping up.
“We have a lot of reliability problems with this car,” the source said, but “we’ve added to it.”
“We’ve got into a very, very poor maintenance mode. We’re delinquent.”
The source warned unless the issues are rectified, the maintenance problems will only grow. “The public’s going to get saddled with a car that’s going to cost us a lot of money.”
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Green didn’t directly answer when asked by the Star if the TTC’s inability to keep up with the maintenance indicated the cars need too much work to keep them running or showed a lack of due diligence by the transit agency.
The pause “reflects our efforts to balance good maintenance practices with service demands while steadily improving the overall fleet reliability,” he said.
Coun. Shelley Carroll (Ward 17, Don Valley North), who sits on the TTC board, said the issues raised in the Bombardier email appeared to be “major,” particularly because the company said the vehicles’ warranty could be affected. She said she was concerned not doing the work could have a financial impact on the TTC.
She questioned why the TTC hadn’t disclosed the Bombardier email to the board when it met last month. Stopping the maintenance was “a pretty big move, and in my view should have come to the board,” Carroll said, adding she expected a full report at the board’s next session in April.
According to Green, the TTC plans to restart the program in April, and to clear the backlog within six months. He said at the time the maintenance was suspended 26 cars had undergone the program, and 25 are now overdue and will be addressed through the agency’s recovery program. The remainder of the fleet will “be maintained in accordance with the two-year maintenance program,” he said.
The TTC placed the order for new streetcars in 2009. After much-publicized delivery problems in the early days of the order Bombardier staged a remarkable turnaround and missed the end-of-2019 deadline to supply all 204 vehicles by only a matter of weeks.
While the new cars are much more reliable than the creaky, decades-old streetcars they replaced, there have been signs the TTC has struggled to perform the maintenance they require.
The Star previously reported that by August of 2019 the number of open TTC work orders for the fleet was at about 11,000. At the time the agency had about 165 new streetcars in service.
The backlog then was nearly double the number of open orders recorded in February 2019, when there were about 6,000. That month a TTC official told colleagues the amount of uncompleted work risked becoming “unmanageable — if it is not already so.”
Green said there are currently about 10,000 open work orders on the fleet. He stressed the orders include “every single piece of work” required for the cars, “from floor cleaning, to scratches, carbon replacements, scheduled maintenance” to more serious repairs.