Welding problems impact TTC streetcar deliveries

Written by John Thompson, Canadian Contributing Editor

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) recently suffered another setback in the delivery of its much-delayed 204-unit Flexity Outlook LRV order. Carbuilder Bombardier Transportation has advised the TTC that 67 of the LRVs have frames that were improperly welded at the company’s Sahagun, Mexico plant. A Bombardier spokesperson stressed that the welding deficiencies do not represent a safety issue (most of the cars involved are presently in service), but could become issues later in the cars’ expected 30-year life spans.

The problem is reportedly a lack of fusion on certain of the welds on the car’s frame, especially in the vicinity of the truck structures and articulation portals.

Bombardier has agreed to have the 67 LRVs sent to its Welding Center at its La Pocatiere, Quebec plant, for remedial work. The process will require 19 weeks per car: four for shipment, 12 for the actual work, and three more to carry out commissioning testing for service. The company will absorb all of the costs involved in this work.

The first LRVs to be repaired are to be shipped out this fall; the entire remedial process is scheduled for completion by 2022.

This latest issue means that the TTC may have to keep some its current fleet of Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) in service longer than planned. Several have already been overhauled in the TTC’s Harvey Shops due to the late arrival of the Flexitys.

Earlier frame welding issues were reported at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay, Ontario plant, when the initial cars were being assembled. It was thought that the welding problem had been corrected, but this proved to not be the case.

David Van der Wee, Bombardier’s Chief Operating Officer, pointed out that each Flexity requires close to one mile of welding. He observed that the modifications needed to the car, for its operation on the TTC’s legacy streetcar system, represented a higher-than-normal welding difficulty. This was due to complex, compact assemblies, and the use of duplex-type stainless steel.

Van der Wee said that Bombardier’s training program for its Mexican plant welding and overall process control was insufficient to ensure 100% quality results, but that this situation has been corrected.

Benoit Brossoit, President of Bombardier Transportation for the Americas, said his company would begin manufacturing certain critical Flexity components at its Quebec and German plants, and had invested more than C$6 million in the firm’s global supply chain to improve the timeliness of component deliveries, which has been an ongoing problem.

Bombardier has opened a second TTC production line (in addition to the one at Thunder Bay), at Kingston, Ontario, about 200 miles east of Toronto, on CN’s Montreal-Toronto line. The first car from this new line is expected to be completed in third-quarter 2018.

The Kingston plant has also assembled 14 Flexity Freedom cars for the new Kitchener-Waterloo (Ontario) LRT line, and is presently working on an order for Edmonton, Alberta.

During 2018 Bombardier has, as of July 24, delivered 27 cars to the TTC, with 38 more scheduled for the balance of this year. The company has promised to deliver an additional 77 by the end of 2019, completing the order.

Jade St-Jean, Senior Advisor, Communications and Public Relations for Bombardier, told Railway Age that the welding problems would not effect the delivery schedule of the 14-unit Waterloo Region order. These carbody frames were produced more recently, on a separate production line, after the improvements had been implemented. Bombardier is conducting an ongoing analysis to assure that there are no problems. The Edmonton LRVs were not affected either, due to the timing of the welding operation modifications, St-Jean said.

If the Kitchener-Waterloo LRT opens for revenue passengers this December, as hoped, it will be by a very narrow margin. The right-of-way has been physically complete for almost a year, but the lack of approved cars has held up the start of service. Fourteen Flexity Freedom LRVs had been ordered from Bombardier, as part of a larger order placed by Metrolinx, the Ontario transportation agency.

Late delivery from Bombardier had been part of the delay, but the latest snag is the late arrival of the cars’ trackside communications equipment, which is to be installed by Bombardier staff at the Waterloo OMSF (Operations, Maintenance and Storage Facility). “The vehicles have progressed, and we have begun to install the additional equipment necessary to have the required functionality for passenger service,” St-Jean told Railway Age. “The first vehicle with this equipment will be delivered by the end of August, so it can complete the necessary integration testing with the rest of the system.”

Powered testing of the cars on the property has been ongoing since February. To date, nine LRVs have arrived. Following installation and approval of the communications equipment, acceptance of the cars for service should soon follow. “We have hired and trained more employees to retrofit the remaining vehicles in our plant in Kingston,  and in parallel at the OMSF,” St-Jean said. “We are working with an aggressive schedule to deliver all 14 vehicles in the next months, so they can be in revenue service by the end of the year.”

For further insight, see “Bombardier turning a corner,” by Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono.

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