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Thunder Bay Bombardier plant shut out by B.C. order for passenger rail cars

Hundreds of new rail cars will be built for the Greater Vancouver area.
Skytrain rendering
A rendering of the new rail cars being ordered for the Vancouver area (Bombardier Transportation)

THUNDER BAY — The regional transit authority for the Vancouver area will purchase more than $700 million worth of rail cars from Bombardier Transportation.

But the cars will not be manufactured at Bombardier's plant in Thunder Bay.

Instead, more than 200 next-generation cars for Vancouver's SkyTrain network will be assembled at the company's plant in Kingston, which has previously supplied SkyTrain rolling stock.

The cars will be designed by teams at Kingston and at St.-Bruno, Quebec.

Bombardier's deal with TransLink, the regional transportation authority, also includes options for up to 400 additional cars.

The company designed and built the original SkyTrain system and has been providing mass transit equipment to Greater Vancouver since 1986.

Dominic Pasqualino, president of Unifor Local 1075, says he's still lobbying for new orders that will avert further layoffs in Thunder Bay, and potentially result in the recall of hundreds of workers.

Worksharing that began earlier this month will negate the need for the layoff of up to  200 people in the coming months.

About 300 Unifor members are currently employed in the plant, after more than half the workforce was laid off when major contracts were completed at the end of last year.

"I've been sending letters to every politician I can to thank them for the work they've done [so far], and hopefully they can help us in future," Pasqualino said.

He noted that the federal government is supposed to reveal details next month about some longer-term initiatives that may support future procurements for mass transit.

"I don't know how that affects our plant, but a lot of this stuff, it's great for two years from now, but I need something right now. That's my biggest problem," he said.

The plant is currently producing 36 bi-level cars for Go Transit, as well as roofs for Metrolinx light rail vehicles being assembled in Kingston. Those vehicles are then sent to Thunder Bay for the installation of automatic train controls.

Thunder Bay also has orders for 39 bi-level cars for two U.S. west coast transportation systems.

In October, the Toronto Transit Commission approved a plan to acquire up to 13 more street cars from Bombardier – the same models as the 204 cars already supplied from Thunder Bay.

The TTC also wants an additional 47 streetcars, but this needs senior government funding.

At the end of January, 2021, France-based Alstom will complete its purchase of Bombardier's rail division.

To date, there has been no indication what Alstom's long-term plans for the Thunder Bay facility might be.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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