THUNDER BAY - The Toronto Transit Commission’s decision to move forward with the order of 13 new street cars from Bombardier could mean more work for the local plant, but long-term sustainability of the operation still depends on much larger contracts.
“The good news of the 13 cars is it’s a start to get this order,” said Dominic Pasqualino, president of Unifor Local 1075.
“The entire order would be 60 cars and that’s what we really need at this plant at this time. Sixty cars is the best bang for the buck and would help us immensely in the Thunder Bay plant, but would also be great for Toronto so they have the cars they need.”
On Thursday, the TTC voted unanimously in favour of a new procurement plan that would see an initial order for 13 streetcars and negotiations for an additional 47.
The cars are identical to the 204 built by the Thunder Bay Bombardier plant in a contract with the TTC in 2009.
However, even with the TTC voting to order the new street cars for its fleet, there is still no guarantee the work will come to Thunder Bay.
“If the schedule is not aggressive and they don’t need the cars very quickly and there is only 13 of them, they could very easily do them in Kingston and they wouldn’t have the tool up cost they would have over here,” Pasqualino said. “But if there were 60 cars, those cars would be more efficiently built at the Thunder Bay plant.”
But Pasqualino added that it would not take the local plant long to retool and be ready for the work, with most of the infrastructure still in place to manufacture the cars.
Lindsay Fenton, general manager of the local Bombardier plant, said the TTC’s decision is great news.
“We now begin detailed discussions with the TTC on this contract change for the initial order of 13 streetcars and fixed pricing for up to an additional 47 cars,” she said in a statement. “If the matching funds from the Province and Federal Governments materialize, a larger order of 60 cars would bode well for the plant.
The estimated cost of the 13 cars is approximately $140 million and manufacturing the additional 47 cars would require a $360 investment from the federal and provincial governments.
“They are going to have to lobby the federal government and provincial government,” Pasualino said. “I think the more likely the federal and provincial come on board the more likely those cars will be built.”
Also included in the new procurement plan is the addition of 80 subway trains with a total of 480 cars, an order that Pasqualino said would secure work at the Thunder Bay plant for years to come.
“That would be exciting to get that, so if we were to get that and a couple bi-level cars we could be back to our previous workloads where we would be running 800 to 1,000 people working here,” he said.
“The 60 cars is a fairly small order. I like to have five years of work in the bank. I think that is the most productive thing. These starts and stops and laying off and hiring are not cost-effective. It’s cost-effective to have a solid crew that goes to work every day.”
The Thunder Bay plant has approximately 400 workers on the site completing 36 bi-level cars for the province and 39 bi-level cars for two U.S. West Coast transportation authorities.
Light rail vehicle roofs are also being assembled at the local plant before being completed in Kingston.
According to Pasqualino, even if the order for 13 streetcars comes to Thunder Bay, and the additional 47, there will still be a gap in production and the plant needs to continue efforts to secure more work.
“With the 60 cars probably still be a gap, but it means the lights will still be on with a reduced crew, so we need to find more work,” he said.
“Bombardier is actively looking for more work. It would be nice to have the governments come on board with the 60 cars and also those subway cars. Those subway cars are a very important part of getting things done.”
Bombardier has faced numerous layoffs since last year after work on two major contracts wound down at the end of 2019.
More workers are expected to be laid off early next year.
“My concern is 2022, to my knowledge, there is no work available to the plant,” Pasqualino said. “It is very important to ensure we get contracts now for 2022.”