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TTC to consider streetcar purchase


Toronto’s disco-era streetcars could be on their way out as early as 2010 and replaced by sleek, new light-rail vehicles, if plans on the table at today’s Toronto Transit Commission meeting are approved.

New “low-floor” streetcars, accessible to the disabled, quieter and bigger than the regular-sized vehicles in the current fleet — now nearing 30 years old — have long been on the TTC wish list, especially as it looks to build more streetcar routes.

For the past two years, the city’s number crunchers have balked at TTC plans to shop for new streetcars, which carry a likely price tag of about $3-million to $5-million each, insisting instead on a plan to refurbish the existing fleet at a cost of $1-million a car and keep them on the rails until closer to 2020.

TTC chairman Adam Giambrone said the transit agency will present plans today to order new streetcars much sooner, but order fewer of them to keep up-front costs down. To last long enough for their replacements to arrive, most of the TTC’s 196 current Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) would still need a lower-cost overhaul.

“It doesn’t make them more expensive or cheaper,” Mr. Giambrone said of the new plan. “It spreads the cash flow out… . It’s a question of when do you write the cheque.”

Mr. Giambrone said TTC and city finance officials are still going over the numbers. But he said he believes the new formula would make the multimillion-dollar purchase more palatable to the cash-strapped city.

Even if the TTC persuades the city, the transit agency will still need help from the provincial and federal governments to buy the streetcars, Mr. Giambrone said.

Unlike the controversial subway car contract handed to Bombardier last year, TTC officials have said the streetcar purchase — worth as much as $650-million — will be put out to tender. TTC engineers have travelled to Europe and the United States to examine new light-rail vehicles in action.

Many cities are buying new vehicles as light-rail enjoys a rebirth, especially in the United States. Germany’s Siemens, Montreal-based Bombardier, and Czech-based Skoda all make low-floor, light-rail vehicles, and may be among the firms that compete for the TTC contract.

TTC officials have previously said that Skoda’s cars, running in Portland, Ore., were close to meeting Toronto’s requirements.

Representatives of the Czech Republic have met with at least one TTC commissioner, according to the city’s voluntary lobbyist registry.

Whatever the TTC buys, the car will have to be modified to handle the Toronto system’s steep Bathurst Street hill, various tight turns and the TTC’s wider tracks.

The city councillors on the TTC will also discuss the transit agency’s 2007 operating budget, which has a projected $33.5-million hole. Mr. Giambrone and other commissioners have said they are reluctant to consider a third consecutive fare increase to close the gap.