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TTC spent $26 million to save 30 aging streetcars. But majority of the vehicles are still in the garage in need of more repairs

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Less than one year after the TTC spent $26 million on what it billed as a major maintenance program to extend the life of 30 of its older streetcars, the vehicles remain so unreliable that the agency can only get two or three into service every day, the Star has learned.

The program began in 2015 and was supposed to help keep 30 of the aging streetcars on the road for up to an additional 10 years. But despite exceeding the program’s budget, the TTC fell far short of its target and did work on just 20 cars.

A TTC employee works on the steel floor of an articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV), built in 1987. The TTC spent $26 million in an attempt to extend the life of 30 of its older streetcars, yet the vehicles remain so unreliable the agency can only get two or three into service every day, the Star has learned.
A TTC employee works on the steel floor of an articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV), built in 1987. The TTC spent $26 million in an attempt to extend the life of 30 of its older streetcars, yet the vehicles remain so unreliable the agency can only get two or three into service every day, the Star has learned.  (Bernard Weil / Toronto Star file photo)

The work that was done failed to significantly extend the life of the cars, and as of this month on any given day the majority of the streetcars, which are known as articulated light rail vehicles (ALRV’s), are stuck in a garage in need of further repairs.

Although the ongoing poor reliability of the ALRV’s has been publicly disclosed, the TTC board, which provides civilian and council oversight of the transit agency, was never formally informed that the program had so badly failed to meet its initial objectives.

“That’s really bad,” said Councillor John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre), a TTC board member, when informed of the outcome of the program on Monday.

“I’m surprised that they would have spent so much money and gone ahead with that kind of expenditure without certain assurances that more of (the streetcars) could have been put on the road.”

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Campbell said that “whenever there’s that kind of waste” it “raises a red flag,” and the TTC board should have been told the repair program hadn’t worked out as planned.

“At some point, somebody in the chain of command should have said, we’re wasting our money here,” he said.

Brad Ross, a spokesperson for the TTC, said the agency “did get some additional years out of the ALRV’s based on the work performed — more so than if we did nothing.”

But he stated that at the start of the overhaul program the vehicles had already reached the end of their intended service life and “the program’s intent was to keep them on the road, safely.”

He said that as the repairs progressed the TTC realized more work than anticipated was required, and the agency determined “it was better to work with Bombardier to get new streetcars in service here as quickly as possible and to rely on buses to supplement streetcar routes in the interim than to spend any additional money” fixing the ALRV’s.

The TTC has two types of older, so-called “legacy” streetcars: smaller vehicles called Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and the larger ALRV’s, which are used on busier streetcar routes and are recognizable by their accordion-style middle sections.

The TTC bought 52 of the 23-metre ALRVs in 1984, and they were supposed to last about 30 years. In May of 2015, as Bombardier fell behind schedule in delivering new vehicles to replace the older fleet, the TTC secured approval to overhaul 30 of the old ALRV’s in order to extend their service life. The repairs began in June 2015, and were supposed to be complete by the end of 2017.

The articulated light rail vehicles (ALRVs) are distingishable by their accordian-style middle sections.
The articulated light rail vehicles (ALRVs) are distingishable by their accordian-style middle sections.  (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star file photo)

The life extension program was supposed to help ensure the cars could last another decade, although they would require additional work over that period as some streetcar components like wheels and trucks need to be revamped every five years.

The TTC trumpeted the return to service on the 501 Queen route of the first of the overhauled cars in an October 2015 press release, which described it as the initial ALRV to “undergo a major life-extension overhaul that will improve reliability and ensure continued, safe operation of the streetcar fleet.”

But an internal TTC tracking document obtained by the Star shows the agency quickly fell behind on the planned repairs. By the final months of 2017, the last year of the program, it had completed work on just 17 of the 30 cars.

By that time, the document shows, the agency had already burned through almost all of the $24.5-million program budget, having spent $22.8 million.

According to Ross, the TTC spokesperson, the agency eventually completed work on 20 cars, at a cost of $26 million, but decided at the end of 2017 not to do more work on the ALRV’s, including the remaining 10 vehicles that had been selected for the overhaul program.

Richard Wong, who was appointed the TTC’s head of streetcar maintenance in April 2017, midway through the repair program, said the overhaul work should never have been described as a life-extension program because the repairs it entailed didn’t include work on the electrical systems that was required to keep the cars operating in the long run.

Instead they focused on work like repainting and repairing corrosion on the streetcar bodies, replacing flooring, and refurbishing pneumatic air systems, propulsion motors and braking systems. Work was also done on the vehicles’ wheels and axles, suspension and structural beams.

Wong said that falls under the kind of more routine “state-of-good-repair” maintenance that keeps vehicles in good condition, but doesn’t extend their service life.

“I don’t know why it was advertised as a life extension,” he said.

“What you’re seeing (now) is that we have very low vehicle availability because they’re always breaking down on the electrical side of things.”

Copies of three of the TTC’s daily streetcar availability reports obtained by the Star and dated between Oct. 31 and Nov. 5 2018 show the agency planned to deploy 10 ALRV’s on each day, but only two or three were available for service each morning. Most of the remainder are listed as unavailable due to “corrective maintenance.” Wong acknowledged the numbers are typical of the current ALRV reliability.

A newly painted articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV) streetcar awaits final repairs. As a result of delays by Bombardier to deliver new streetcars on time, the TTC decided to overhaul 30 streetcars to keep them in service. It eventually completed work on 20 cars, at a cost of $26 million.
A newly painted articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV) streetcar awaits final repairs. As a result of delays by Bombardier to deliver new streetcars on time, the TTC decided to overhaul 30 streetcars to keep them in service. It eventually completed work on 20 cars, at a cost of $26 million.  (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star file photo)

Their unavailability means the TTC has even fewer vehicles to make up for the delays to the delivery of its new streetcar fleet, leading to worse service on the busy streetcar routes on which ALRVs are supposed to be deployed. The TTC has been supplementing some streetcar routes with buses, and now plans to retire all of the ALRV’s by around 2020.

Wong didn’t dispute the idea that the program wasn’t a good use of taxpayer money.

“We could have done a better job of planning this, to be honest,” he said. “Planning some more electrical work would have probably been prudent, but that would have also cost more money as well.”

In order to comply with provincial accessibility legislation, the TTC has to retire all of its old-model streetcars, which aren’t accessible, by 2025. The new low-floor streetcars supplied by Bombardier are accessible.

Under the terms of a 2012 agreement, the company was supposed to have delivered 148 of the cars by the end of last year. Due to well-documented production problems, it only delivered the 106th vehicle last month. Bombardier has met revised delivery targets this year, however, and says it will supply all 204 of the new cars by the end of 2019, as scheduled.

The TTC is suing Bombardier for costs the agency has incurred as a result of the delivery delays. It isn’t clear whether the $26 million spent on the ALRV repairs could be recouped as part of those claims.

Ross said the agency hopes to announce a settlement with the company “in the coming weeks.”

Don Peat, a spokesperson for Mayor John Tory, said the money spent on the ALRV repairs “is another example of the costs the TTC has incurred trying to keep streetcars on the road while we wait for Bombardier to deliver the streetcars we have ordered.

“This is why we need the new TTC streetcars and why the Mayor has pushed for them to be delivered as quickly as possible.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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