The past few years have admittedly been tough for Bombardier Transportation in North America. Changing dynamics—in particular, China’s entrance into the vehicle market—combined with delivery and quality problems and highly public squabbles with key Canadian and U.S. customers—have impacted the company’s business as well as its reputation. Now, however, Bombardier’s fortunes appear to be turning around.
The most problematic contract has been the long-delayed order for 204 new low-floor Flexity Outlook streetcars for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), to replace the agency’s aging [articulated light rail vehicles] ALRVs and [Canadian light rail vehicles] CLRVs. TTC’s Flexity is based on the standardized car used in cities like Brussels, Marseille, and Geneva, but tailored to Toronto’s unique needs. The vehicles use TTC’s unique track gauge (4 feet, 10.875 inches/1,495 mm) rather than standard gauge (4 feet, 8.5 inches/1,435 mm) and trolley poles using 600 VDC for current collection. Other design requirements such as the ability to handle tight turning radii and single-point switches, climb and descend steep grades and operate within tight clearances on city streets, and the ability to upgrade into a more modern pantograph current collection system were factored into the design. The Outlook is almost twice as long as the TTC’s older streetcars, and has five articulated sections.
What can only be described as an unfortunate perfect storm—supply chain problems (there are roughly 10,000 components per vehicle), fitment mismatches between the carbodies (built in Sahagun, Mexico) and underframes (built in Thunder Bay, Canada, where finally assembly was taking place), a strike at Thunder Bay, bad electrical connections (some 20,000 per vehicle that had to be redone) — pushed deliveries back by about two years. For example, Bombardier was to have delivered 73 streetcars by the end of 2015. Bombardier negotiated with TTC to deliver 30 vehicles by the end of 2015, but that goal was only achieved one year later, at the end of 2016. According to the original contract, 100 of the 204 cars were to have been delivered. (As a point of reference, TTC signed the original contract in June 2009, and the first car was delivered in September 2012.)