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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

BART's Train Supplier is Missing Deadlines, Losing Contracts, Seeking Bailout

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Will we ever see it run? - BOMBARDIER
  • Bombardier
  • Will we ever see it run?

The still-mysterious electrical surge that knocked out almost 10 percent of BART's fleet of rail cars could not have come at a worse time. (There is probably no good time; a less-awful time may have been, say, six years ago, when far fewer people rode BART.)

The evil current is breaking a key part — an electrical semiconductor called a thyristor — in BART's already-ancient fleet of rail cars, some of which are already past their recycle-by date. Conveniently, BART has no spare thyristors and has had to order new ones... which won't be delivered until August.

In the meantime, BART has resorted to pirating thyristors from some of its old cars... of which there are literally none to spare. BART has over 669 cars in its fleet and is supposed to run 579 on a daily basis, but was down to 521 as recently as Friday (though 557 were available on Monday).

All of this to say that BART's $1.5 billion, 775-car "Fleet of the Future" cannot arrive soon enough — and that it quite possibly will not.

Bombardier, the rolling stock giant contracted to build the fleet, has missed key deadlines to supply rail cars to agencies in Toronto and London, the latter of which yanked its contract. Best yet: Bombardier is currently seeking a billion-dollar bailout from the federal government in Canada. And as it is, Bombardier is already months late in delivering to BART its first prototype car.

Last week — just days before the current BART mess unfolded and @SFBART revealed itself to be a Millennial disguised as Nixon-era infrastructure — the first Bombardier BART car rolled off the factory floor and onto a flatbed truck for the trek west. That March delivery was, as of last summer, supposed to happen in the fall.

And these new cars are just the first batch of ten, to be used for testing. BART is not scheduled to receive the new cars for full service until next year at the earliest. 

Will Bombardier even be a company by then? It's a fair question: the company is currently asking the Canadian government for a billion dollar (as in U.S. dollars) bailout, following labor troubles with workers at one of its factories in Ottawa. 

Recently, the company lost out on bids to supply cars to transit agencies in Chicago and Boston to a Chinese manufacturer. The troubles in London certainly played a part in those decisions — as will trouble here, if it materializes. 

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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