Thursday, September 07, 2017

ION LRT ready to roll. Where’s the rolling stock?

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ION LRT ready to roll. Where’s the rolling stock? Ian Henry/Transit Toronto

The LRT scene in downtown Kitchener (Ontario) in early September 2017 reminds the visitor of an episode of “The Twilight Zone”: tracks complete but rusty and debris-filled; stations ready for passengers, but none to be seen.

Work is basically complete on the 12-mile Kitchener-Waterloo ION LRT project, but late delivery of the system's 14 Flexity Freedom LRVs from Bombardier means that the first revenue passengers most likely won't be aboard until well into 2018. The line had been planned to commence service in late 2017, but this date has had to be pushed back.

A C$92.4 million LRV order was signed with Bombardier in July 2013. It was an add-on to a large Metrolinx order for cars for its Toronto-area LRT projects. Metrolinx recently tried, unsuccessfully, to cancel its order due to a fear of late delivery.

“It’s frustrating that it's taking so long,” says Waterloo Region Councillor Tom Galloway, a member of the Rapid Transit Steering committee. “We were supposed to have the first operational LRV a year ago, and all of them should have been here by now. It’s in Bombardier's hands, but when schedules are in their hands, our experience has not been the greatest.”

Bombardier declined to respond to specific questions about production problems, but did say that work was progressing. Spokesperson Marc-Andre Lefebre stated that track testing of the LRVs at the company’s Kingston (Ontario) plant was under way. However, he would not commit to a date for delivery of an operational LRV. Late August or early September were previously announced as possibilities.

One LRV, number 501, was delivered in February 2017 in an incomplete state, in terms of operational software and other essentials. Only minimal work has been done to the car in the months since, although Waterloo shop staff have used it to check clearances, yard trackage, etc. The car will either need to be returned to Kingston for completion, or Bombardier must send a technical team to the Waterloo shop to ready it for operation, Galloway said.

The Councillor added that Bombardier is making progress, especially on LRV assembly, after adding an extra shift of workers; construction of the eleventh car is under way. “They are sticking to the assembly schedule pretty closely,” he said. “But making the vehicles functional—that's where we’re having some issues.” Galloway mentioned that he’s hopeful that the first operational LRV will be shipped this fall, but added that Bombardier’s record for meeting deadlines leaves much to be desired.

The LRV issue also means that the LRT overall contractor, GrandLinq, has been unable to perform track testing, especially on the two-mile section shared with a short line freight railway.

Waterloo Region Councillors and various other individuals with rail transit interests are puzzled that Bombardier has been successfully producing similar LRVs in Europe for some time, but is having difficulty in Canada. Galloway said that they have never received a satisfactory explanation from the supplier for this baffling situation.

That said, the Region may, in common with Metrolinx and the Toronto Transit Commission, seek compensation for the delays, as per its contract.

The good news on the Kitchener-Waterloo horizon is that development along the LRT corridor has not been negatively impacted by the delays in opening the line. The most recent figures indicate that the LRT has influenced approximately C$2.2 billion in new construction in the vicinity of stations.