Software! The latest LRT snafu
Latest launch date in jeopardy as Bombardier fails to deliver a train that works
This is the LRT stop at Frederick Street in Kitchener. Delays in Bombardier’s production of LRT vehicles means the expected spring start of service could be in jeopardy. – Mathew McCarthy,Record staff
KITCHENER — With the planned launch of its light rail transit system just months away, the Region of Waterloo is still waiting for Bombardier to deliver a train that actually works.
And and there’s no guarantee when that might happen.
Bombardier’s production of the region’s LRT vehicles has been repeatedly delayed — now by problems with the core operating software that runs the trains and the testing required to get them ready for the public.
It’s the latest setback in a $92.4-million deal for 14 Bombardier trains signed in July 2013.
It means the region’s LRT service, originally scheduled to start in late 2017 but already delayed to next spring, is at risk of being pushed back even further.
“It’s frustrating that it’s taking so long,” said Tom Galloway, the regional councillor who sits on the rapid transit steering committee. “We were supposed to have the first working vehicle a year ago, and all the vehicles 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 did not respond to specific questions about problems with production, but said things were progressing.
It could not say when the first pilot train might arrive.
“Manufacturing and assembly of the vehicles in Bombardier’s Kingston plant is going very well, with high-speed testing on our test track progressing accordingly,” said Marc-André Lefebvre, head of communications and public relations for Bombardier Canada.
“The question of the delivery schedule is under discussion between our team and the Region’s, and so we cannot comment further on this issue for the time being. We assure you that we will keep everyone informed as soon as we have developments.”
Bombardier has delivered one train — it arrived in February — but it’s not functional. Its operating software is incomplete, its sensors haven’t been calibrated and there’s no train signal system installed.
The Region says it needed that unfinished train to test how it fit inside the LRT storage facility on Dutton Drive.
That train will either need to be shipped back to Bombardier or the company will have to send a crew here to finish it, Galloway said.
Galloway said a spring 2018 launch for LRT is still a “hopeful target,” but admitted he’s concerned by the production delays at Bombardier. The region may have to consider launching the LRT service with only 12 of the 14 trains ready, he said.
“If push comes to shove, and in the middle of winter when vehicles still aren’t arriving, we may have to have those discussions,” he said.
“Sure we’re concerned. We’re supposed to be starting the service in a couple of months, and we’re already pushing it back four or five months. There’s concerns because the schedules have not been met up to this point.”
Galloway said Bombardier is making some progress, especially on the assembly of the vehicles. The company added an extra shift at its Millhaven rail production facility in Kingston, and workers are beginning to assemble train No. 11, out of the 14 the region ordered.
But with hiccups in testing and problems with the technology that runs the trains, they’re still a long way from completion.
“They’re sticking to the assembly schedule pretty closely,” Galloway said. “But making the vehicles functional, making them actually go, that’s where we’re having some issues.”
Bombardier had promised to deliver the first working train by June, then that was pushed back to this August. Galloway says the region is hopeful the first pilot train can be shipped soon, but Bombardier’s track record with meeting deadlines has not been great.
“It’s going to be shipped fairly soon, we’re told, and it should be in working order,” he said. “We don’t have an exact date, but we’re told this fall we’re going to have a vehicle that out on the line.”
The delay in the delivery of that first working train is also holding up GrandLinq’s ability to test the rail line the trains will run on.
Particularly puzzling for regional officials is the fact Bombardier is already producing the same LRT trains overseas — but that production has not met with the same problems as the trains being made in Canada.
“One of the things we’ve never gotten an answer for is Bombardier is already producing this vehicle in Europe. So why can’t Bombardier North America produce it?” Galloway said.
He’s hopeful that once the problems with the pilot train are resolved, the logjam will ease and the trains will start arriving more frequently. He added that the region will also pursue compensation from Bombardier for the delays, as per its contract.
The good news, he said, is that development along the LRT corridor does not appear to have been dampened by the delays from Bombardier. The most recent figures from the region are that the transit line has spurred something close to $2.2-billion in new construction in the neighbourhood areas around transit stops.
But after years of waiting, Galloway just wants that see that first working train rolling down the LRT line.
“That will be a great relief for us, and the community. That will be the signal that Bombardier has really crested that obstacle.”
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