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City a step closer to new streetcars

Posted: April 22, 2009, 10:11 PM by Barry Hertz
TTC, Hall Monitor, city council, city hall

By Allison Hanes, National Post

The Toronto Transit Commission will finally reveal tomorrow which light-rail manufacturer wins a billion-dollar contract to build new streetcars — the biggest deal the city has ever awarded and some say potentially the biggest such purchase in the world.

The successful bidder will be either Bombardier Transportation’s Flexity Outlook model or Siemens’s Combino Plus — both modified to fit Toronto’s existing network of streetcar tracks.

But after a false start, a long delay and a redrawing of the process to get the contract award on the right track, the TTC still doesn’t have funding pledged for the big-ticket buy.

Brad Ross, a spokesman for the TTC, said yesterday the commission remains “hopeful” that funding from the Ontario or federal governments will be “forthcoming.”

But he added that after the winning bid is announced, a “window of time” will open in which the TTC must place its order. He did not disclose how long that “window” would be open.

The TTC needs approximately $1.2-billion to purchase 204 new low-floor, fully accessible streetcars to replace its ageing fleet. These would be specially designed to run on the existing tracks that lace through the city core.

The winner would also be a likely source to build an additional 400 new off-the-rack streetcars to operate on Transit City lines — eight dedicated light-rail lines the city wants to build to connect every corner of Toronto.

This option would likely push the total bill for the full fleet of light-rail vehicles into the $3-billion range.

Mayor David Miller pointed out this week that Premier Dalton McGuinty has already pledged funding for the cars on two of those new lines — along Finch Avenue and Eglinton Avenue — when he announced infrastructure money for their construction to great fanfare this month.

He said the city is hoping to tap in to federal infrastructure funds to buy new cars for the existing lines, while the province will likely be called on to step up for the balance of Transit City.

“We have our share of the funding, the third. There’s funding for the Transit City cars in the Transit City projects that Premier McGuinty announced the funding for recently,” Mr. Miller said.

“We’re considering other possibilities for funding — for example, the economic stimulus fund.”

Mr. Ross said having new streetcars for the old rails is a state-of-good repair project, but it is also something the city will be legally required to do in the not-so-distant future in order to make its transit system fully accessible.

“Transit City is wonderful and it’s exciting and it’s new but these replacement vehicles are critical to the downtown network,” he said.

The contract for the new streetcars was supposed to have been awarded last summer; however, the process was derailed when the TTC said the only two submissions it received had failed. One, from a British firm, was deemed not commercially viable, but the front-runner, Bombardier, was disqualified for a design the TTC said would derail on Toronto’s tight-radius turns.

The process was scrapped and the TTC decided to work with the world’s three leading light-rail makers — Siemens, Bombardier and Alstom — in a more open competition.

In the end, only Siemens and Bombardier offered bids, submitting sealed envelopes that TTC officials have now reviewed. Their final recommendation will be made public in a report tomorrow.

Mr. Ross said the determining factor this time is price.

While the two contenders must both still meet the TTC’s technical requirements, he said engineering workshops and consultations — overseen by fairness monitors — over the past eight months should have made specifications abundantly clear.

David Slack, a spokesman for Bombardier, said yesterday that despite time lost, the company would be able to meet the tight deadlines for delivery and the 25% Canadian-content requirement.

He is looking forward to the big announcement. “It’s a big deal,” Mr. Slack said.

Once the contract is awarded, the first prototype streetcar will arrive for testing in 2011 and the first new models should be ready in 2012, with the last shipment arriving in 2018.