Company wants Los Angeles Metro to sign up for a new rail production facility… at the cost of 100 rail vehicles
Five years ago, the city of angels signed a contract with AnsaldoBreda, an Italian train maker, for 50 new light rail vehicles, with two options for a total of 100 more. The city had a bit of a historical relationship with the company, since its predecessor Breda had also produced the first cars for the Red Line subway back in 1993. The company has also built heavy rail vehicles for Atlanta and Washington and light rail vehicles for San Francisco, Cleveland, and Boston.
But though the first of those fifty trains arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 2005 for use on the city’s Green, Blue, and Gold light rail lines, today, the company has yet to complete the delivery: it’s three years behind schedule. To make matters worse, the trains are 6,000 pounds heavier than Metro initially predicted. Though the city’s experience isn’t as bad as Portland’s with Colorado Railcar – Tri-Met literally had to assume control of the company to get it to finish the trains it had promised – it is unfair for a city to have to deal with such inefficient, incompetent contracting.
Now, Metro, which needs those 100 extra cars to serve its new Gold Line Eastside Extension, to open late this year, and the Expo Line, to open early 2010, must decide whether to sign up for the options it initially made with AnsaloBreda or whether to put the light rail cars up for competitive bids by other companies such as Siemens, Alstom, or Bombardier. Theoretically, it would be easier and perhaps cheaper to simply ask the Italian company to continue producing the cars, as they’ve already been designed; on the other hand, other manufacturers have been successful in delivering vehicles without such delays and design flaws. Metro staff – and the organization’s President Roger Snoble – would prefer a new contract with another company.
AnsaloBreda knows it’s in the doghouse, so it has offered Los Angeles another deal: if the city agrees to purchase the contract option’s 100 cars, it will move its headquarters and production facilities to the city. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who also chairs Metro’s board, likes the deal because it would provide up to 500 new unionized manufacturing jobs in the city and 100 white collar headquarters jobs.
The problem, as Tim Rutten pointed out in a good column in this morning’s L.A. Times, is that the company has been trying to make this deal with cities all over. It told Miami and Madrid that it would build plants in those cities if they awarded rail contracts. Even more astonishing, AnsaloBreda moved its headquarters and a manufacturing plant to Pittsburg, in the East Bay, in 2007, on the assumption that it would build Los Angeles’ rail cars – as well as those for San Francisco and San Jose – there. How many places can this company have production facilities? How frequently is it willing to move its headquarters? What would the move it’s now promising to Los Angeles mean to communities in Northern California that would likely lose their jobs in the process?
The company’s offer makes me incredibly suspicious of its good will, now completely dubious considering its pitiful track record. Though the company may indeed move its plant to the city, how long will it actually stay there? What other city will attract AnsaloBreda’s attention in the next decade and make it decide to pull its investment out of Los Angeles?
This is blackmail, and Los Angeles shouldn’t be playing into it. Time for a new process of competitive bidding.