Métro woes…

This is about as real as it gets - conceptual renderings of the proposed Azur Métro train.
This is about as real as it gets – conceptual renderings of the proposed Azur Métro train.

Here’s the deal:

In 2010 the Quebec government signed an agreement with the Bombardier-Alstom consortium to build 468 new Métro cars at a total cost of $1.2 billion, with expected delivery starting in February 2014 and continuing for four years. The first completed car rolled out in splashy ceremony in November of 2013. The first train was completed in February 2014 and the company maintained that the entire fleet would be delivered by 2018, as per the contract.

It’s now April of 2015 and only one train has been delivered, and it’s been used uniquely for testing – i.e. it is not in operation yet.

It’s assumed Bombardier will have to pay some kind of fee for late delivery, though this is far from set in stone and could easily be forgiven by the government.

If say Bombardier were to come up with reasons to further delay delivery, government might wave the fee, or do something else to prevent such a delay.

So far Bombardier has announced delays in delivery because of two different issues. First there were problems with parts of the tunnel that required a partial redesign so as to actually allow the trains to pass through. Second, announced in October of 2014, was that the automated control software wasn’t ready, so even though a paltry five train sets had been completed, they wouldn’t be put into service. In January Bombardier-Alstom indicated that the software still wasn’t ready and that they’d have to layoff 145 construction workers at a plant in La Pocatière because of the delay in developing a software an Alstom-owned subsidiary in (wait for it) Italy.

At face value these seem like reasonable justifications, but think on it a little bit.

In the first case, the work to be done was on a small section of a tunnel, and basically involved shaving off parts of the ceiling and outer walls, as that portion – for whatever reason – was slightly narrower than the rest of the system. It had nothing to do with the trains themselves, so how did that retard their construction?

In the second case, the software is just that – soft. Why can’t the new trains use the existing automated control software? Is there no way to operate the trains manually? And again, why would that delay construction of the vehicles themselves?

Today’s news is that the Quebec government will ‘loan’ $31.5 million to the STM so that the STM can then pay Bombardier for the delivery of four train sets, each with nine cars. When these train sets will be delivered is anyone’s guess – despite a lot of flowery prose – a delivery date for these trains was omitted from the STM’s press release (author’s note – thanks to Martin from Propos Montréal for pointing out it isn’t actually a loan, but an advance the STM will pay Bombardier before the total bill is due in full once the last trains are completed and delivered in 2018. So we’re paying a portion of what’s already contractually agreed upon as owed to Bombardier-Alstom for trains that are only 95% complete).

CTV reported in January that five trains had been completed, today we were promised four completed trains at a future date. Which is it? Have five been built or are four to be built?

And why is the government loaning money to the STM so the STM can then pay Bombardier-Alstom to keep production going and save 145 jobs in La Pocatière (which is located about halfway between Quebec City and Rivière du Loup, and closer to Edmunston New Brunswick than Montréal). And why didn’t the government pay Bombardier-Alstom directly as opposed to loaning money to the STM?

And what was the $1.2 billion contract signed in 2010 for if not to pay for the production of these Métro cars in the first place?

The STM press release is thick with laughable quotes from various members of the provincial government, and Bombarider-Alstom, declaring how important it is to keep the Quebec economy going and to save these jobs. Coderre weighed in (for some reason) that the people of Montréal are impatient to get the new trains, but no delivery date was specified and there’s no specific details as to what the $31.5 million will be used for.

If it’s just to keep 145 people employed, how does this fix the software problem?

And wasn’t the contract supposed to create 400 jobs, not 245 of which 145 can be ‘saved’ from temporary layoffs thanks to a mere $31.5 million loan? What about the initial contract?

The Journal de Montréal reports that economy minister Jacques Daoust had the gall to state that ‘if Quebec were in a period of austerity, we (the government) could not have made this grand gesture’.

Son of a bitch. It’s shit like this that makes people absolutely despise the Quebec Liberal Party.

Now to recap:

– In 2010 the Quebec gov’t paid the Bombardier-Alstom consortium $1.2 billion to deliver 468 new Métro cars (comprising 52 trains).

– Trains were expected to begin operation in February 2014.

– As of January 2015 no trains had been delivered to the STM; Bombardier-Alstom at first blames delays on problems with tunnel clearance, then with automated control software, and indicates it will have to temporarily layoff 145 employees at a factory in La Pocatière though fails to connect the dots as to how this will impede the construction of the trains. CTV reports five trains had been completed but, according to STM and Bombardier-Alstom officials, can’t be used safely.

– On April 2nd 2015 the Government of Quebec announces a $31.5 million loan to the STM so that the STM can pay Bombardier-Alstom for the delivery of four trains at an unspecified date as well as the continued employment of those workers threatened with layoffs.

– On the same day officials from the government, the Mayor of Montreal, representatives of Bombardier, Alstom and the STM congratulate themselves for doing something good for the Quebec economy.

The Quebec government just paid nearly $32 million to get four trains when it already paid $1.2 billion for 52 trains five years ago, and apparently Bombardier-Alstom has justified delays in both construction and delivery on a) physical characteristics of the tunnel they should already have been aware of and b) automated control software they are responsible for. And to top it all off, the new trains will be delivered ‘95% complete’ and without the new software.

People, this is your money.

Bombardier-Alstom convinced the representatives of the people of Quebec into paying more money for a subpar product that’s already a year behind in the delivery schedule, by threatening to layoff unionized workers in a riding that up until recently voted PQ.

Once again the taxpayers of Quebec have been screwed by a profit-driven multinational corporation and complicit government officials who look to score political points by creatively financing corporate failures and spinning it as an some kind of economic and political success story. We have been told by various governments for over a generation that the private sector is more efficient at getting the job done. How can such be said of Bombardier-Alstom with regard to the Azur project?

I don’t get it. We have no money to pay for schools, hospitals nor even a sufficient number of maintenance workers to keep the Métro clean, yet have $31.5 million lying around to reward incompetence at best and blackmail at worst.

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