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Bombardier 'mystified' by TTC ruling

Light-rail vehicle company insists streetcar can handle Toronto’s tracks, demands hearing


With a report from Karen Howlett

July 26, 2008

Streetcar-maker Bombardier Inc., striking back after the TTC ruled that the firm’s proposed new vehicle would derail on Toronto’s tracks, demanded a chance to make its case at the political level after a meeting yesterday with the transit agency’s bureaucrats ended in an impasse.

The dispute has left officials at Bombardier, the world’s largest light-rail vehicle manufacturer, “mystified,” one official said. And it has cast a cloud over the TTC’s handling of its biggest vehicle purchase ever, a contract worth up to $1.25-billion to buy 204 new low-floor accessible streetcars to replace its aging fleet, potentially the largest light-rail deal in North American history.

After its morning meeting, Montreal-based Bombardier, which insists its streetcar is safe and can handle Toronto’s tight turns and steep hills, issued a statement demanding a hearing from the commission of nine Toronto city councillors that governs the transit agency to ensure “full transparency.”

Adam Giambrone, the city councillor who chairs the TTC, said Bombardier would be allowed to address the commission at its Aug. 27 meeting. At that meeting, the commission is to hear from TTC staff about the negotiations started after the bids were rejected, both with Bombardier and its competitors that declined to submit bids.

“This decision in no way does it reflect on Bombardier’s ability to build sound and technically advanced LRT vehicles,” Mr. Giambrone said, adding that the TTC stood by its position that Bombardier’s car did not meet its technical requirements.

Bombardier and unheralded British-based TRAM Power Ltd., both disqualified, were the only two firms to bid after the surprise withdrawal of Siemens.

Bombardier vice-president Mike Hardt said yesterday in an e-mailed statement that Bombardier believes it could resolve the TTC’s issues with its design: “Following our meeting with TTC today, we are more convinced than ever that the RFP [request for proposals] process was cancelled prematurely, as a resolution seems very possible.”

Sources at Bombardier told The Globe and Mail this week that the TTC’s rejection of its bid had to do with specifications much stricter than industry standards and centred on computer modelling on how the new streetcar would handle Toronto’s tracks.

The TTC had charged that Bombardier wrongly used parameters other than those provided by the commission, and Mr. Giambrone accused the firm of knowingly submitting a failed bid, an allegation the company denies.

Bombardier sources say the firm submitted modelling under its own parameters because the TTC explicitly asked bidders to do so, after consulting the industry about the transit agency’s strict requirements to try to make 21st-century, 100-per-cent low-floor accessible streetcars to run on its 19th-century tracks.

TTC spokesman Brad Ross said that running the streetcar design Bombardier proposed would require replacing 120 sections of track to accommodate it - he did not have a cost estimate - and make it difficult to continue running the TTC’s current fleet.

Mr. Giambrone said under the terms of the process, all bids had to comply with the original specifications, no matter what alternatives were also provided. He stressed that the decision to cancel the bids came at the behest of the fairness monitor appointed by the TTC, former Ontario associate chief justice Coulter Osborne.

Mayor David Miller, who spoke strongly in favour of the TTC’s controversial move in 2006 to hand a $674-million subway-car contract to Bombardier without accepting foreign bids, refused to be drawn into the issue yesterday, saying Bombardier needed to work with the TTC to resolve their dispute.