Monday, July 17, 2017

Progress and setbacks in Ontario

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Aging CLRVs and ALRVs remain in service in Toronto as only 40 Bombardier Flexity LRVs have been delivered as of press time. Aging CLRVs and ALRVs remain in service in Toronto as only 40 Bombardier Flexity LRVs have been delivered as of press time.

Progress has been made on Metrolinx’s plan to electrify the GO Transit regional/commuter rail network. Meanwhile, major delays and controversy mark Bombardier’s streetcar contract with the Toronto Transit Commission.

Electrification plans for GO Transit’s Barrie Rail Corridor were discussed in July at a public meeting in Newmarket, an on-line community. GO Transit, its parent, Metrolinx, and Hydro One, the provincial electrical utility hosted the meeting.

The line extends northward approximately 50 miles from Toronto to the city of Barrie, on Lake Simcoe. It was formerly part of CN’s Newmarket Subdivision; this section was partly abandoned about 20 years ago and subsequently bought and rehabilitated by the Province of Ontario.

Patronage has been growing steadily as residential development continues, with many residents of the Corridor communities riding GO Transit trains to employment in Toronto.

The complete corridor will be electrified utilizing 24,000 volts AC. Trains will consist of the existing Bombardier bi-level coaches, powered by new electric locomotives. These coaches, incidentally, were designed with provision for possible EMU conversion. The electric service startup is projected for approximately 2025.

It is also planned to electrify the line to a point just north of the town of Aurora. A 15-minute-headway service, seven days a week, is proposed between Union Station and Aurora. Hourly service will be provided to Barrie (station designation: Allandale), also seven days per week.

An elevated grade separation of the Barrie Corridor and CP’s east-west North Toronto Subdivision, in central Toronto, will be built. The North Toronto Sub is a vital link in CP's Toronto-Montreal route that, apart from commuter service, has been freight-only since 1971.

A Metrolinx spokesperson confirmed that electrification will be implemented only on rights-of-way owned by the agency. CN and CP have both declined to permit catenary above any of their trackage, over which GO operates a portion of its service. The spokesperson also said that dual-powered (AC catenary/diesel) locomotives, such as the Bombardier-built ALP45-DP deployed with NJ Transit and AMT (Montreal), are not under consideration at present.

GO’s original route, the Lakeshore Line, is owned by Metrolinx between its eastern terminal in Oshawa, about 35 miles east of Union Station, and Burlington, a similar distance to the west. Metrolinx owns the Kitchener line up to the city of Brampton.

Meanwhile, Bombardier Transportation has notified the Toronto Transit Commission that it might be unable to meet its target delivery of 70 Flexity Outlook low-floor LRVs by Dec. 31, 2017. Bombardier has missed several delivery deadlines for the 204-unit order, to the TTC’s increasing frustration. Delivery schedules have been revised downward several times. The TTC currently has 40 vehicles on the property, although a mutually agreed-upon 2012 schedule had promised 130 units by mid-2017.

TTC placed the order in 2009 to replace its fleet of 196 Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and 52 Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) dating from the late 1970s and early 1980s, respectively. As a result of the late Flexity deliveries, the TTC has been compelled to give select CLRVs and ALRVs major overhauls, to protect service.

The TTC has invoked a penalty clause in its contract with Bombardier that has a limit of C$50 million to recover these overhaul costs. The delivery delay is partially attributable to Bombardier's reliance on “just in time” delivery of LRV components from various far-flung suppliers, e.g., in Europe, rather than stockpiling them at its Thunder Bay, Ontario plant. This has resulted in shop floor delays due to parts shortages. The company has also allegedly not assigned a sufficient number of workers to the project.

To help combat these issues, Bombardier has chartered an Antonov cargo plane to fly LRV cabs over from Vienna, Austria, rather than sending them by ship, which can require a month. In addition, the LRV production line at Thunder Bay is being extended to a seven-day work week, from five. Staff are also being added at Bombardier’s European facilities that manufacture some of the components. Bombardier is responsible for these additional costs.

The TTC has stated that it will ultimately need an additional 60 LRVs to accommodate steadily growing ridership. The agency has approved a search exercise to identify and investigate other potential suppliers for this and future orders. A policy to exclude Bombardier from future LRV orders, even if the company is the lowest bidder, as it was in this case, has also been discussed.

Metrolinx is attempting to cancel its 182-car order of Flexity Freedoms, and has placed an order for 61 Citadis LRVs with Alstom to replace these cars on its Eglinton Crosstown (Toronto) LRT line, due to open in 2021, and the Finch West LRT, planned for a 2022 opening.

The 14 Flexity LTVs for the almost-completed Kitchener-Waterloo LRT are also behind schedule by almost one year.

(The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of John Freyseng.)

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