Yesterday, the Toronto Transit Commission formally approved a contract with Bombardier Transportation for 204 new streetcars at a cost of C$1.2 billion, with a future option for up to 364 more vehicles. Siemens, the other manufacturer whose products were under consideration, was turned down principally because its offer for Avenio trams was said to be 50% more expensive. Alstom, the other major train manufacturer, did not submit a proposal – surprising considering that the French company is number two worldwide in the urban transport market. This contract has solidified Bombardier’s hold on the Canadian market and suggests that the Montréal-based company is looking to compete intensely with Siemens, particularly against its popular Avanto light rail model in the rapidly expanding American market.
Bombardier’s Flexity Outlook streetcars will all be delivered by 2018 if the contract stays on time; the project will employ 300 people at the company’s plant in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where Toronto’s new subway trains are also being produced. Toronto citizens will be assured of riding some of the world’s newest and most advanced trains once the subway and streetcar contracts are carried out.
For now, these new streetcars will replace the 300-odd “Canadian Light Rail Vehicles” purchased by the city in the 1970s and 80s and which run on Toronto’s 300-km network of tram routes. The Flexity cars will be 30 meters long, twice the length of the existing bus-length trams, meaning increased capacity on the streets of Toronto. They’ll have the notable advantage of being 100% low-floor, meaning far better access for the mobility impaired and easier circulation for everyone. A columnist in the Globe and Mail suggested that the ride quality of the Flexity trains won’t be as good as that of the air-suspensioned Canadian LRVs, but we’ll have to see. Note that low-floor vehicles such as those Bombardier is building for Toronto by definition don’t have as much room to provide a smooth ride compared to older high-floor trains. In addition, because of the longer length of the new rolling stock, the frequency of trains will decrease. There are always tradeoffs.
Toronto has yet to accumulate all of the necessary funds to pay for these trains, but it’s likely to get guaranteed commitment from Ontario Province and the Federal Government by summer to ensure the first delivery of trainsets by 2012.
If the city moves ahead with its Transit City proposal, which would mean the construction of several new light rail lines criss-crossing the city, TTC will take the option on this rolling stock. Early this month, the Ontario government announced its support for the Eglinton and Etobicoke-Finch West light rail components of the Transit City program, meaning that it’s highly likely Bombardier will be asked to build additional trams in the near future to fulfill the needs of those corridors.
If Bombardier, unlike other companies, can fulfill this contract without major problems or delays, it will be sitting pretty in the competition between transit vehicle manufacturers.
Image above: A mock-up of Bombardier’s train, from The Star