The longest tunnel in the world is now in Switzerland. Since 8:00 Eastern Time this morning, when a TBM broke through the walls to form the Gotthard Base Tunnel. This 57Km train tunnel, to be completed around 2017, at a cost to the tune of 1300$ for every person in Switzerland, represents this country’s vision of a future on rails; to get the freight away from the congested roads of the Alps; to cut down travel times between Switzerland and Italy by about an hour with trains traveling at 250Km/h through the underground passageway; to connect Northern and Southern Europe divided by the massive mountains. And In North America we watch with envy.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Canadian cities get consistently higher transit ridership ratios than cities in the US or Australia, according to a recent article at Human Transit.
The graph shows the percentage of people commuting to work by public transit, compared to the population of the cities. The transit share tends to be higher for larger populations — but at the same time there is the trend that Canadian cities see a higher transit mode share.
This anomaly might be due to the great weather, better concentration of employment centers, higher apartment renting levels, or a perception that people take the bus to be progressive rather than because they are poor. Either way, this is how Jarret puts it:
In any case, we’re on the leadup to Canadian Thanksgiving, so I thought this little occasion for Canadian triumphalism would be apt.
Now it’s official. Instead of trying to get the new Montreal metro cars at market value, Quebec just confirmed that the contract is directly going to be given to Bombardier. Without a bidding process. This comes just a few days after the government asked the STM to delay the opening of the bidding process, so that the province can pass a law that would allow the STM to directly negotiate with Bombardier/Alstom based on their 2008 bid.
The Montreal blog fagstein offers this timeline:
- May 2006: The Quebec government announces it’s going to hand a $1.2-billion contract to build new metro cars to Bombardier without putting it out to tenders. It reasons that Bombardier is the only company that can build the cars in Quebec on rubber wheels. Competitor Alstom immediately points out that it could have done the same.
- June 2006: Alstom sues.
- January 2008: A judge rules in favour of Alstom, which he says has a right to bid on the contract.
- February 2008: The Quebec government starts from scratch, opening up bidding for the contract.
- November 2008: Bombardier and Alstom submit a joint bid on the contract. Being the only bidders, they quickly get it.
- November 2009: The Quebec government decides to double the scope of the contract from 340 to 765 cars, replacing not just the oldest cars but the entire fleet.
- December 2009: Chinese company ZhuZhou comes out of nowhere and demands to be able to bid on the new contract. ZhuZhou promptly sues. A Spanish company, CAF, does the same.
- January 2010: A judge rules that because of the expanded scope of the contract, these new companies should be allowed to bid. The STM puts out a call for interest, but competitors argue it’s rigged to ensure that Bombardier-Alstom gets the contract. ZhuZhou says it will sue.
- March 2010: Both China’s ZhuZhou and Spain’s CAF express interest in bidding for the expanded metro contract.
- May 2010: Bombardier-Alstom sues.
- June 2010: A judge rules against Bombardier-Alstom, saying the STM can put out a public call for bids on the expanded metro contract.
- July 2010: The STM decides to start from scratch for a third time, opening up bidding for the expanded contract
- October 2010: The Quebec government decides it will start from scratch a fourth time, and just hand over a $1.3-billion contract without putting it up for bids. It cites the urgency of acquiring new cars. CAF says it will sue.
He also offers a projection on what will happen next, which can be found in his article here.
It already is very fishy how Alstom first sued to get an open bidding process on the cars — the whole point of which is to get a market value deal for the taxpayer — but then suddenly joined with Bombardier just to undermine that exact same process.
It is also strange that the call for bids at that time had restrictions that would only allow Alstom and Bombardier to bid. It required that any bidding company had rubber tyre metro technology running somewhere for at least 5 years. This made the whole bidding process moot. That’s why Spanish CAF sued to begin with, to get a chance to bid as well.
Now CAF, desperate to get the contract, just offered to build the metro cars for only 1.4$ million dollars – almost the same amount that they got paid by the Santiage metro System to build basically the same metro cars. In comparison, Bombardier/Alstom is currently asking for 2.6$ million. This is down from originally asking 3.3$ million; just the threat of an open bidding process lowered the price.
But That’s still 1.22$ billion vs caf’s 670$ million offer for the whole order – 550$ million less. And this being a continuation of the 2008 bid, before the order get expanded to the whole fleet, the difference would grow as the STM would exercise the option to order more cars at the same prize. The difference could grow to over 1$ billion dollars.
Now why would the government push this through if it represents such a huge burden on the tax payer?
Cars = Too old?
The claim the Charest government makes is that the metro car issue is becoming urgent, that they cars not to replaced soon. And sure, the oldest cars are from 1963, almost 50 years old. But just this summer the STM confirmed that the metro cars are old but safe.
The maintenance costs will grow in the next couple of years, but it seems hard that they will grow to hundreds of millions of dollars. At the same time I wonder how many months the bidding process will delay the delivery of the cars. My guess is that the final negotiations, engineering and testing will overshadow the bidding time, anyway.
CAF = Unreliable?
The claim on the side of Bombardier/Alstom is that their technology is much more reliable, that caf simply doesn’t have the expertize.
“There’s no way that (Montrealers) should be the STM’s guinea pigs, with all the risks that it entails, including the maintenance of these cars for the next 40 years”, they claim.
But CAF is building rubber tyred metro cars for Santiago, and they also hired former Bombardier employees. Surely that should give them at least some credibility.
Another claim is that caf won’t build most of the cars in Quebec. Yet, a requirement of bidding is that 60% of the work has to be done in Quebec either way. In any case this is a requirement that should be tested by the open bidding process, and not by claims of the competitor, or the gut feeling of some politicians.
Bombardier = good for Quebec?
Quebecers have positive feelings towards Bombardier. The company was found in Quebec, started as a small shop in the Eastern Townships. It built the first metro cars. It creates jobs. Quebecers have dear feelings towards the company, they are one of ‘us’.
But in the end of the day Bombardier is just a company, a multi-national one, that answers to its stock holders and not the people of Quebec. It is not a guarantor of jobs in Quebec. This summer the company just showed that when it cut back on jobs in the plant where it intended to build the metro cars, and threatened to shut it down of they wouldn’t get the contract.
At the same time Bombardiers is building rolling stock all over the world. Bombardier doesn’t really care about Quebec, maybe then they would offer the taxpayers a better deal. At the same time, given that caf would have to assemble the metro cars in Quebec, the Spanish bidder would have to open a plant here as well, anyway. So the contract will create jobs in this province, no matter who is getting it.
Contract with Bombardier = Votes?
There is another angle to the story. The decision to fast-track the metro contract might be due to electoral goals. The riding of Kamarouska-Temiscouata, where the Bombardier plant is located, is about to have a by-election to replace national assembly member Claude Bechard, who passed away on September 8th. Surely saving a thousand jobs in that region will gain the Liberals some support, and they might win the seat.
Whatever the actual reason is for this maneuver, something is seriously wrong here. This whole bungled deal, despite going on for years, has not resulted in the best possible deal. CAF is not amused, and even the Spanish Ambassador is getting involved.
It is ironic that this comes just as Quebec is outraged over a trolling MacLean’s article proclaiming Quebec to be “the most corrupt province”. Even the Quebec government demanding an apology. Now the same government is mysteriously giving Bombardier an over-expensive contract. And the taxpayers are going to have to pay.
Bombardier yesterday unveiled (also here) its new dual mode locomotive at Innotrans 2010 in Berlin. It is to be used on the new Train de l’Est commuter line in Montreal, and some lines of the New Jersey Transit (NJT).
They trains are purchased in a joint bid by AMT and NJT. The AMT has ordered 20 of these 130-ton machines for 236.3 $M, of which 75% is paid by the ministry of Transports of Quebec, and 25% by the AMT.
This is interesting because this new train could significantly improve the AMT network. The Mount Royal Tunnel going under the mountain does not have enough ventilation to support trains running on diesel engines; only locomotives powered by electricity are allowed through. This means that the only trains that can currently go through the tunnel are the ones of the fully electrified Deux Montagnes Line. But none of the other AMT lines are electrified at all, so the electric trains cannot serve those.
The Dual Mode train, which can switch between electric and Diesel operation, can go through the Mount Royal Tunnel, but at the same operate on any other line. This opens the possibility to finally route the Blainville-St-Jérôme Line directly downtown, and makes the operation of the Train de l’Est, which is now planned to open in 2012, only possible. Additionally this would allow routing lines through downtown, for example all the way from Mont-Saint-Hilaire to St-Jérôme.
But also this opens up the possibility for gradual electrification of the whole commuter rail system. Electrification means cheaper operation of trains. It means the possibility to have rolling stock that accelerates and decelerates faster (because of less weight); giving the possibility for higher frequency and more downtown stations (surface metro, anyone?). The AMT is studying the possibility to electrify the whole system. Let’s just hope that Jöel Gauthier, CEO of AMT, got a chance to ride the S-Bahn in Berlin, to see where the AMT could be in 20 to 30 years.
Why Talk about public transportation?
Transit is not just a means to get from A to B. Transit, or lack thereof, is not a fact of life that you just have to deal with. It’s an important issue because transportation shapes our cities. It is directly connected with how livable and enjoyable a city, your neighborhood is. A city that is less dependent on cars and is instead more walkable turns public spaces into areas where people live, instead of concrete deserts where people hastily pass through in their mobile fortresses that separate them from their community.
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in public transportation, especially in North America, after decades of stagnation. This is probably due to the desire to create more livable cities that are not based on cars, and the realization that an oil and car-based society is not sustainable, and comes with a high price. This and climate change lead to a growing desire for more green alternatives.
In the last decade we have seen the Renaissance of the Streetcar, the first construction of a new subway line in New York in 60 years, an ambitious plan to squeeze 30 years worth of subway extensions into the next 10 years in LA and a commitment to build a High Speed Rail network in North America. The Overhead Wire called the rush and excitement to build all these new lines the Transit Space Race.
At the same time we are seeing large investments in transit in Asia, for example the new metro in New Delhi, Shanghai becoming the city with the largest metro network, and China building the largest High Speed Rail network in the world.
There is the will to create more transit, but at the same time the recent recession is forcing transit agencies to cut service or hike fares.
But it’s not just about the will or the funding to build and maintain transit, but also about creative ideas on how to organize transit. Some claim that the kinds of transit systems in use today have been around for more than half a century basically in its current form: bus, subway, train, etc. So one just needs the funding to build and maintain one of these systems. But in fact there has been a fair amount of innovation and ideas during the last two decades, like bike sharing systems, ways to make buses have similar capacities as a metro, ways to use existing infrastructure to build much cheaper rapid transit systems. Creative ideas are cropping up to make transit generally more appealing without actually building new lines, by reorganizing it or by using information technology.
This blog is about these ideas and implementations of them and the ‘transit race’ in general. I also want to talk about the desire to create more human transit and better cities as well.
I grew up in Berlin, Germany, and live in Montreal, Canada now, for half a decade. I feel this gives me both the European and North American perspective, and I have traveled a fair amount on both continents. In many of the issues I want to talk about one of the cities (or both) might be used as an example. But despite this focus, this does not mean that the issues in general are not applicable to other places.
I should’ve been an architect or urban planner by heritage, yet I am a computer scientist by trade, and a transit geek at heart.