Thanks to The Overhead Wire, we get news of Portland’s troubles with Colorado Railcar, which is providing the vehicles for the currently under construction Westside Express Service commuter rail, to be run by Tri-Met, which also runs the city’s light rail system.
The problem is that Colorado Railcar is doing really poorly – it’s pretty much out of funds – and Tri-Met has become responsible for subsidizing it, just so it can get the four railcars that it ordered built. The more embarrassing part of the story is that Tri-Met knew that engaging in a contract with Colorado Railcar was risky business when the agency first agreed to sign on back in 2005. Over the past three years, it has handed over more than $5 million above the contract to keep the company afloat.
Just like The Overhead Wire, I’ve had concerns about Colorado Railcar for years for a variety of reasons. For one, the company has never been capable of actually producing working vehicles for any transit system – until now. Second of all, one look at a Colorado Railcar train is enough to convince you that the company isn’t in the same league as Alstom, Siemens, or Bombardier, which all produce modern-looking and good-performing vehicles. Perhaps we shouldn’t read a book by its cover, but Colorado Railcar’s trains look like they’re from the 70s.
Perhaps Tri-Met was trying to help an American business survive against dramatically better funded foreign competition. But in the process, Portland has paid more than it had to for trains that are likely to have major problems (and no manufacturer’s warranty!) in the years ahead.
In more encouraging news, New York City is almost ready to open its first new subway station since 1989.