Metrolinx still waiting for first Eglinton Crosstown vehicle

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Two months after Bombardier announced the first vehicle for Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown LRT was almost ready, the car has yet to be shipped, and the Quebec-based manufacturer now has just weeks to meet a deadline to deliver half a dozen of the new cars.

Under the terms of a $392-million contract agreed to last year, Bombardier is supposed to supply Metrolinx with 76 vehicles for the Crosstown, the $5.9-billion midtown light rail line that is currently under construction and is scheduled to open by September 2021.

In late October, Bombardier invited media to its facility outside Kingston, Ont. to demonstrate progress it had made in assembling the first Eglinton Crosstown vehicle. The company said at the time it would be ready to ship in November.
In late October, Bombardier invited media to its facility outside Kingston, Ont. to demonstrate progress it had made in assembling the first Eglinton Crosstown vehicle. The company said at the time it would be ready to ship in November.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star file photo)

In late October, Bombardier invited media to its facility outside Kingston, Ont. to demonstrate progress it had made in assembling the first vehicle. The company said at the time it would be ready to ship in November.

But according to Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency in charge of building the Crosstown, a subsequent inspection in early December determined the car wasn’t ready.

“The vehicle required some corrections and adjustments prior to being released for shipment to Toronto,” said Metrolinx acting chief communications and public affairs officer Jamie Robinson in a statement.

“Due to constraints with shipping prior to the heavy traffic holiday season, Bombardier has informed Metrolinx that the arrival of the first vehicle is now scheduled for early 2019.”

Neither Metrolinx nor Bombardier would specify what adjustments the vehicle required.

Under the terms of the contract, the deadline for delivering the first six cars is Feb. 1.

According to Robinson’s statement, there are “significant financial penalties for Bombardier” if the company fails to supply “quality vehicles” by the deadline.

Metrolinx declined to say what the penalties are or whether it believes Bombardier will supply the six vehicles on time.

In a brief email, Bombardier spokesperson Jade St-Jean said the company is “on the right track” and “confident” it will meet the Feb. 1 deadline for all six cars.

She said the first car “was ready to be shipped in December” but as a result of the Christmas holidays it will now be sent the week of Jan. 7, 2019.

Asked to explain why the holiday would affect delivery, St-Jean said the car is being sent by truck and will require a police escort, which she suggested wouldn’t be available over the Christmas period.

According to Metrolinx, once it receives the first cars they will initially be used to test systems at the Crosstown vehicle maintenance and storage facility at Mount Dennis.

The delay in supplying the first Crosstown car is the latest development in the long-running saga of the expensive vehicle purchase.

In 2010, Metrolinx placed a $770-million order with Bombardier for 182 cars, with the intention of running them on several Toronto-area light rail lines.

But in 2016, Metrolinx filed a notice of intent to terminate the deal, claiming Bombardier had missed deadlines for the delivery of the first cars.

Bombardier countered in 2017 by seeking a court injunction to prevent Metrolinx from cancelling the contract. The company alleged Metrolinx had unfairly refused to take delivery of cars, and claimed the agency wanted out of the deal because several provincial light rail projects had been either delayed or cancelled and it no longer required all 182 vehicles it had ordered.

After a judge blocked Metrolinx from cancelling the contract, the two sides agreed in Dec. 2017 to reduce the number of vehicles in the order to 76.

Metrolinx also inked a deal with Alstom, a French rail manufacturer, to supply the Crosstown cars should Bombardier fail to deliver.

The Metrolinx order is separate from the TTC’s purchase of new streetcars from Bombardier, which has also faced delays.

A spokesperson for the TTC said that as of Monday, the agency had 117 of the new vehicles in service, and at least four more had been approved for delivery.

Bombardier had set a revised goal of supplying a cumulative total of 121 vehicles by the end of 2018. The company says that despite previous delays it is on track to deliver all 204 streetcars by the end of next year as planned.

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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Street closure designed to speed up Eglinton Crosstown construction postponed

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A lengthy closure of a midtown intersection intended to accelerate work on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT has been postponed due to local opposition, a decision that comes on the heels of questions about whether the massive transit project will be done on time.

Earlier this month Metrolinx, the provincial agency that oversees transit planning in the GTHA, announced Bathurst St. between Eglinton Ave. West and Wembley Rd. would be closed between December and June to allow the construction of Forest Hill station, one of 25 planned stops on the 19-kilometre line.

This April 27, 2018 photo shows the underground cavern where Laird station for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be built.
This April 27, 2018 photo shows the underground cavern where Laird station for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be built.  (Randy Risling / Toronto Star)

According to a notice posted to the project website, the seven-month closure would cut the duration of construction on the street by nearly half, eliminate the need to reconfigure the intersection several times over the course of the work, and improve safety conditions at the site.

Councillor Josh Matlow, whose ward is bordered by Eglinton, said he objected to the plan when he learned about it soon after winning re-election in October.

He said neither Metrolinx nor Crosslinx, the private consortium building the $5.8-billion LRT, had consulted the public about the plan, and announced it despite not yet having a construction permit from the city.

“The overwhelming response is of tremendous concern, principally because of the incursion of traffic that will result from this,” he said.

Timeline of the Eglinton Crosstown construction

Matlow said he and his constituents accept the fact that the construction of a major transit line will cause disruption, but he argued residents deserve to provide input about how to mitigate the impacts and suggest alternatives. He said many feel a partial closure of the street would be preferable, even it means it takes longer to complete the work.

In response to Matlow’s objections, Crosslinx has agreed to postpone the closure and hold a public meeting next month.

Crosslinx spokesperson Kristin Jenkins said while the construction group remains on track to meet the September 2021 deadline, accelerating work at Forest Hill would “(give) us some cushion.” The full closure of Bathurst would allow crews to operate in four work zones simultaneously instead of one at a time.

“It helps manage risk in case something unexpected comes up,” Jenkins said. “Plus it’s good for the community. By getting the work done faster, the road would be restored to normal faster.”

According to a source familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk publicly about the process, prior to the closure being announced city transportation staff told Crosslinx their permit would be approved.

In July Crosslinx, a partnership of Aecon, Dragados Canada, EllisDon, and SNC-Lavalin, cast doubt on whether it would finish the Crosstown on time when it sued Metrolinx for allegedly causing delays and cost overruns.

In a notice of action filed in court, Crosslinx asked for an extension of the 2021 deadline as well as reimbursement from Metrolinx for additional costs the group said it had incurred as a result of the agency’s actions.

The two sides reached a settlement in September under which Metrolinx agreed to pay the consortium $237 million. Both parties agreed to seek ways to speed up construction to ensure the project stayed on schedule, including extending work hours and performing multiple jobs concurrently.

Jamie Robinson, Metrolinx’s chief communications and public affairs officer, said Monday the Crosstown is still on track to be completed by 2021, “and will bring huge benefits to the city.”

“We’re building one of the largest transit projects in North American through highly congested, urbanized neighbourhoods. We know that construction can be disruptive and work very hard with Crosslinx to minimize the impacts on residents,” he said.

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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