LRT construction plans derailed

Once planned to begin in late 2017, the ION light rail transit system has had its start delayed until early 2018, following difficulties in construction of the vehicles. Bombardier, the company responsible for the construction of the 14 cars that the region needs to run the LRT system, made significant errors in the design of the cars, pushing the delivery dates of the vehicles back several months.</p>

“[Bombardier has] a plant in Mexico that is doing some of the work of the basic frame of the vehicle. Apparently when those frames arrived in Thunder Bay where the vehicles are actually assembled, there was a lot of rework,” Tom Galloway, chair of the Region of Waterloo planning and works committee, explained. “The quality of the work coming out of their Mexico plant was not good, and the Thunder Bay operation had to rework a lot of it, and that took a lot of extra time.”

Originally, the first of the LRT cars was scheduled to arrive in July 2016, with the final vehicle set to arrive around July 2017. In April 2016, the region was given a notification of delays by Bombardier, updating them on the difficulties with the Mexican plant and pushing the first car's arrival back to October 2016 and the last vehicle back to October 2017. However, according to Galloway, the region had accounted for enough extra time in the LRT construction schedule that this delay would not impact the overall schedule.

In May 2016, Bombardier gave another delay notification citing the same reasons for the delay, and estimating that the first car would now arrive on December 15, 2016, with the final car not arriving until late 2017. This new delay will impact the overall schedule of the LRT project.

Though the final car is still planned for a 2017 arrival, further steps will be required afterwards. As each car arrives, a different company named Grandlinq is responsible for ensuring the cars are ready to operate.

“Each vehicle has to be fitted out by Grandlinq [as] they don't come ready to operate. They all have to be fitted out electronically by Grandlinq to co-ordinate with all the electronics in the tracks, the switching stations, and everything else. Then they need to be 'burned in,'  a term which means they have to be run for  hundreds of hours without any passengers on them to make sure they're operating properly. This is typically a two-month process for each vehicle,” Galloway said.

The region has been rather forthcoming with their frustration over the delays.“We're obviously not very happy about this,” Galloway said. “To this point in time, we've had nothing but disappointment.”

Galloway said that region has “a limited amount of confidence” in Bombardier to deliver on their updated promises. He noted that Bombardier has been making changes to improve their process, such as opening another production facility in Kingston to work on the vehicles, as well as bringing over experts from their European plants.

As a penalty for the delays, Galloway said that Bombardier would likely have to pay $1,500 per vehicle per day for every late day, up to a penalty of $3.5 million. In the meantime, the region is considering other options, such as beginning ION service in late 2017 before all 14 vehicles are ready. However, Galloway did note that this would not be “the preferred way to start,” as it would make the service less convenient.

As far as the work happening within the region to set the tracks in place, Galloway said that construction was a few months behind schedule, but was confident that there were no serious difficulties since there is more than enough time in the schedule to account for any difficulties, and further noted that being a couple months off-schedule for large construction projects is more or less predictable.

If the schedule proceeds without any further difficulties, UW students may begin to see trains passing by the tracks spanning across the campus, as the burning in process begins on the LRT cars in anticipation of the early 2018 kickoff.