Flexity Reliability Update: October 2019

At the TTC Board meeting of October 24, 2019, there was a staff presentation on the question of streetcar reliability and statistics, as well as a statement by Bombardier about their improvements in quality control. [Links go to the YouTube video recording of the meeting.]

In a previous article I wrote about claims that the TTC was keeping “two sets of books” on vehicle reliability, and that the numbers cited for the Flexity fleet omitted failures that were counted against the “legacy” CLRV and ALRV fleets. The TTC has now produced statistics for the Flexitys distinguishing between failures chargeable against Bombardier’s contract performance, and a broader class of delays including those caused by other factors.

The charts shown in this article were clipped as screen grabs from the meeting video. When I get better resolution versions from the TTC, I will update the illustrations here.

There are several “Key Performance Indicators” (KPIs) tracked by the TTC and Bombardier, and some of these appear in the monthly CEO’s Report. Responsibility for these varies between the supplier, Bombardier Transportation, and the buyer, TTC, as shown in the chart below. Of particular concern was the Operational Reliability Mean Distance Between Failures which is calculated based on all in-service failures and provides a measure much closer to rider experience than Contractual Reliability that tracks supplier-specific faults.

Production of the new cars suffered for roughly the first third of the order because of manufacturing and engineering problems at Bombardier. This was acknowledged in Bombardier’s presentation about which more later in the article. The chart below does not fully show the severity of the problem because a “defect” could range all the way from something cosmetic to a fault in the physical structure. The chart does acknowledge “Major Quality Defects” and this corresponds to the portion of the order with unacceptable welding from Bombardier’s plant in Mexico.

The delivery pattern is shown below with the anticipated completion of the order by December 31, 2019. This could be missed due to subcontractor supply issues at Bombardier.

The blue bars in the chart show the planned repair program to re-weld the frames of the early cars. This project will occur on a rotating basis so that the number of cars removed from the fleet at any one time is small and does not have the same effect it would were all 67 cars deemed unfit for service.

The reliability statistics have been recalculated back to January 2016 to distinguish between vendor-related issues and all others. On the latter basis (the “Operational Reliability”), the MDBF numbers are lower for the new cars. While still better than the legacy fleet, they are not as dramatic an improvement as cited routinely by the CEO as justification for retirement of the old cars.

(Item 2.iii below contains a typo: it should read “worn”, not “warn” with respect to the pantograph carbons. Quality control is not just an issue for manufacturing.)

The chart below shows the contractual method of calculating reliability including month-by-month figures (amber) and a twelve-month average value. The dotted line is a projection showing what must be achieved to meet the contract requirement of one year’s average at 35,000 km MDBF. Although this chart ends at August 2019, Bombardier reported in their presentation that the figure remains well over the target into October 2019.

When the calculation includes failures that are not chargeable to Bombardier, the monthly averages fall considerably with the low points for the new cars not far off the high points for the old ones. To be fair, one factor in the ability to keep the legacy cars’ MDBF as high as it is recently has been the retirement of the least reliable cars in the fleet.

The real challenge will be to see how the Flexitys make out through the winter of 2020, and the degree to which vendor-related problems affect the contractual as opposed to operational reliability statistics.

The table below expresses the data on the basis of failures per vehicle showing that on both bases of measurement, this number is falling as the fleet grows showing that newly delivered cars are not contributing to high failure rates as they were earlier in the contract. This could be due to better reliability of the newest cars, or to the accumulation of a larger number of reliable cars in the fleet overall, or some combination of the two.

Reliability In More Detail

Within the contractual method of calculating reliability, there are four categories of failure, of which the “B” type has the 35,000 km MDBF target. These are described below, and the Bombardier presentation refers to “B” failures on a few occasions.

[Source: TTC]

In the table below, the one on the left side lists a total of 15 failures chargeable under the contractual method, of which only 8 actually caused a delay while the other 7 did not. All 15 are counted in calculating the contractual failure rate. On the right side are the 8 contractual failures causing delay plus a further 35 that are not chargeable to the vendor.

Of particular note is the group of 31 “delays that can be limited/eliminated by improved operational response”. This implies there is work to be done on the TTC’s side in better handling and preventing failures that are at least to some degree under their control.

This is echoed in the October 2019 CEO’s Report:

With respect to the Operational MDBF, there were 28 additional delay incidents contributing to the 16,402 kilometres. These incidents included delays such as communication issues, camera issues and faults that should have been remedied under five minutes due to redundant systems on the vehicle. [p 41]

[Source: TTC]

In my previous article, I included a detailed list of failures/delays that was built from the same source material Ben Spurr used for his article in The Star. This information was sent to a wide audience of politicians and media outlets including this blog. The TTC provided me with an updated version of this list including incidents not covered in the material published before. [Click to enlarge.]

[Source: TTC]

Bombardier’s Mea Culpa

Bombardier appeared at the Board meeting with a message about how their production pace and quality had improved. They were represented by Lee Sander, president of the Americas Division of Bombardier Transportation, and David Van der Wee, COO for that division.

Most surprising was their quite free admission that Bombardier greatly underestimated the complexity of adapting a car they had successfully built in and for the European market to Toronto conditions (use of salt in winter, grades, curve radii and track gauge) and of transferring manufacturing techniques from an experienced plant to their Mexican operations which were the source of many problems.

In the original bid for these cars, the competing proposal from Siemens was 50% higher than Bombardier’s price. Bombardier admits that they lost a lot of money on this contract. To what extent these losses might have been avoided with better project planning and management we will never know. This might show up indirectly in the bid price for any add-on streetcars if Toronto ever gets to the point of calling for quotes on them.

This was clearly a pitch to say “look at what we can do today” as a measure of what the TTC might expect in a supplementary order for streetcars. The problem, however, is that Bombardier’s reputation, and not just for the TTC order, is in tatters thanks to quality control problems of past years. There is little political love for a company that has had so many bailouts, and other vendors hope to cash in on a potential market where the outcome of bids is less influenced by political considerations.

The TTC’s plan to rebuild rather than replace its T1 fleet for Line 2 puts a big hole in what might otherwise have been a considerable vehicle purchase stream through the 2020s. I do not agree with this decision, but for reasons that have nothing to do with sending work to Bombardier. Rather, the TTC is locking Toronto into the existing capacity on Line 2 for over a decade by keeping the T1 trains.

As for new streetcars, the TTC desperately needs more to handle existing and future demand, not to mention potential network expansion in the waterfront, but all of the capital spending is now focused on subway and suburban LRT expansion, not on the existing surface network. Provincial funding cuts will hobble Toronto’s ability to expand service on its streetcar and bus networks for many years.

The Star’s Ben Spurr writes about Bombardier’s presentation here.

Tips for any vendor making a presentation especially to a potentially hostile audience:

  • If you have a slide deck, make sure that it contributes to what you are saying rather than just having a set of beauty shots.
  • Be sure all of the photos are the right way around (one was reversed) and show your product in the best, recent light (pantographs up, please) from your own photos rather than culling them from the internet.
  • Learn to pronounce the names of locations where you have employees correctly before you get here rather than stumbling over them while reading a prepared text (“Etobicoke”).

These gaffes might not have been noticed by everyone, but they speak to attention to detail, something the whole Flexity supply experience lacked.

13 thoughts on “Flexity Reliability Update: October 2019

  1. I believe the proper pronunciation is “Fordville”.

    Honestly, I think it’s a little harsh to expect furriners to know the proper pronunciation though.


  2. Do you think we could have tried to keep the CLRV’s a little longer so we don’t have to rely so much on replacement buses?

    Steve: Yes. But the TTC loves to use buses whenever it can (a) because it has vastly more of them than it needs for the scheduled bus service and (b) because the received wisdom is that the CLRVs performed much worse than the new cars. Given the number of problems with the new cars that turn out to be “own goals” by the TTC itself, one has to wonder about how well (or not) the CLRVs were being maintained.


  3. Frankly, aside from the discussions about the financial sins of Metrolinx I found that this was the most boring TTC Meeting I have ever attended.

    Steve: Yes, the fact that the debate on the transit deal is entirely going to be held at Council, it shows how ineffectual the TTC Board really is.


  4. Funny how the bid I worked on with Skoda never gets mentioned. We figured we could deliver our cars $1 million cheaper than Bombardier and probably hit 50% Canadian content; we already had suppliers lined up for doors, window, traction motors, etc.

    But the TTC — egged on by a certain mayor, a TTC chair and a city councillor — rejected our offer of the loan of the demonstrator car we had sitting over at the plant in Pilsen. A poor TTC flunky was forced to tell us that it wouldn’t be fair to “another bidder” that didn’t yet have a car if they allowed us to put the Skoda car on TTC rails.

    Incidentally, we were going to re-gauge the car at Skoda’s own cost in order to run it here.


  5. Steve: As for new streetcars, the TTC desperately needs more

    Additional streetcars were NOT in Premier Ford’s election campaign, they were NOT in Mayor Tory’s election campaign, and they were NOT in PM Trudeau’s election campaign. These politicians need to first deliver what they promised in their campaigns (Scarborough subway, SmartTrack, Ontario Line) before trying to deliver something extra like additional new streetcars.

    Steve: What you missed in the announcement is that the money the city does not spend on subway lines is available for the huge backlog of state of good repair projects which includes new streetcars. It has nothing to do with the election campaigns of anyone.


  6. The TTC claims the weld repair program will have no effect on service. It’s hard to see how that is anything but their usual PR fluff when there aren’t enough streetcars for all routes before accounting for the large number of cars that will be off property at any given moment.

    Steve: Only four are to be off property at a time.


  7. I would be interested to know what Skoda’s demonstrator car would have been.

    Back around the time when TTC was starting to look into new streetcars, I remember a reference (probably a comment on here?) to the Vario LF, which was a PCC-length partial low-floor streetcar produced in the Czech Republic. It was intriguing partly because they ran against the conventional wisdom that new streetcars had to be extended length (we already knew then that the TTC would cut back frequency to match the higher vehicle capacity)… but was especially interesting because Brno had a fleet of them that were basically in TTC colours, so it made it easy to imagine what a new streetcar might look like here.


  8. @Rob: Why can “election promises” (the ones that actually make sense, so the Scarborough subway is out) not be dealt with at the same time as ordering new streetcars? Capacity improvements for the existing network aren’t going to fall out of the sky, you know.

    @Brent: The VarioLF would’ve been a good idea for Toronto, but I doubt it would’ve taken off in our transit environment. The VarioLF, while low floor, is derived from the old Tatra T3 PCCs that were built in Prague from 1961-1989. These are unfortunately not an image of modernity, and I can easily see some politician putting their foot down at adopting what is essentially a refresh of a 60 year old design. Pity.


  9. Andrew: Why can “election promises” (the ones that actually make sense, so the Scarborough subway is out) not be dealt with at the same time as ordering new streetcars?

    When we have unelected individuals like yourself deciding which election promises make sense and which should be out, then holding elections no longer makes sense. The Ford government was elected on its entire platform and the Scarborough subway was a big part of it. As a matter of fact, Premier Ford mentioned the Scarborough subway hundreds of times during the campaign and so, it was not some hidden obscure election promise. Besides, the Scarborough makes sense which is why every level of government and every major party has endorsed it and the vast majority of the taxpayers approve of it as well. Work on the Scarborough subway is progressing rapidly and construction will begin in 2020. The stations of the Scarborough subway will be some of the most beautiful in the world.

    As for ordering new streetcars, at least wait for Bombardier to deliver the ones that have already been ordered. In the meantime, we need to order more electric buses to fight climate change as the Great 16 year old environmentalist Greta Thunberg recommends. If you want capacity improvements, then let us order articulated buses as the bus network is overly crowded.

    Steve: You are aware, I hope, that the design of STC station has changed completely from what is described in that article by shifting the subway structure to McCowan with the bus terminal probably on the east side, not in STC itself.

    “Scarborough Centre Station – Prior to the Provincial change in scope for the project, Scarborough Centre Station was proposed to be located on Borough Drive north of Town Centre Court on lands currently owned primarily by Oxford Properties. The associated bus terminal was to occupy lands to the west of the station that currently are occupied by the Scarborough Centre RT station and bus terminal. An alternative location for the station is now under review, on the east side of McCowan Road with the bus terminal contained within the block bounded by McCowan Road, Progress Avenue, Grangeway Avenue and Bushby Drive.”

    From Attachment 5 of the City of Toronto report regarding the Tory/Ford transit deal.

    I refer you also to comments in Jan De Silva’s remarks about the importance of simple, standardized station design.


  10. “The problem, however, is that Bombardier’s reputation, and not just for the TTC order, is in tatters thanks to quality control problems of past years.”

    Bombardier doesn’t have a monopoly on LRT production problems. The Ottawa LRT has been heavily delayed, although not all problems are with the Alstom cars.

    San Francisco has been receiving new vehicles with a deliberately slow rate of delivery from Siemens. There was problems with the couplers and a door problem caused a women to be injured after being dragged by a train. They ran with the first and last doors locked for a period of time.


  11. If Raymond is unaware that streetcars are powered by electricity, here it is: streetcars are powered by electricity. The same electricity that would, almost certainly less efficiently, power the electric buses Raymond is recommending. As for articulated buses, the diesel buses used by the TTC are notorious fuel-guzzlers, so they are not going to be battery powered any time soon — we don’t know just how good the range of the current test battery powered buses are.

    As for “election promises”, Ford can get going on whatever it is he will actually do. (The Ford brothers’ “Woodbine Live” is a great example of what they can accomplish. Well, maybe not.) If we need more transit vehicles, whether they be streetcars or buses or subway cars, we have to purchase them. Saying “but we need to build a promised subway!” is irrelevant. Go ahead and build the subway — but the subway is hardly the only thing that needs to get done as a matter of course.


  12. @Raymond: “When we have unelected individuals like yourself deciding which election promises make sense and which should be out, then holding elections no longer makes sense.”

    Just because a politician decides something is a good idea doesn’t mean it is. Politicians make grandiose, blustering promises with no basis in reality all the time. The Scarborough Subway has been thoroughly debunked. There are better solutions for Scarborough (LRT) which cost much less, and deliver more value, especially with the proposed extensions to Centennial College and Malvern that were on the table way back in the day. Alas, I doubt any such LRT will be built now.

    “As for ordering new streetcars, at least wait for Bombardier to deliver the ones that have already been ordered.”

    But we already know the capacity of the current fleet is going to be inadequate. What is waiting until the order is done going to change about that?

    “In the meantime, we need to order more electric buses to fight climate change as the Great 16 year old environmentalist Greta Thunberg recommends.”

    That’s a nice idea, but it also has nothing to do with the streetcar fleet. It’s going to be many years before all the diesel buses are phased out of the city, and in the meantime they are either going to be running on streetcar replacement services, or running elsewhere in place of electric buses which will be running streetcar replacement services.

    “If you want capacity improvements, then let us order articulated buses as the bus network is overly crowded.”

    Again with the buses! What does this have to do with the streetcar network? How is adding additional capacity to any bus route going to have an effect on the streetcar routes?


  13. Steve: Only four are to be off property at a time.

    To meet the TTC’s expected annual numbers that would be contingent on the job going faster than it has on the first few cars would it not? 4400 was off property for an awfully long time.

    Steve: Yes, it was. The expectation was that early cars in the process would take longer while Bombardier figured out what needed to be done. Even so, the turnaround has to show improvement, not like their oft-promised but never-met delivery schedules.


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