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Metrolinx rejects Bombardier’s claims of laxity in wake of court filing

Metrolinx fired back at Bombardier in the wake of a court filing targeting the transit agency, saying that the company built a prototype vehicle that wouldn’t even turn on.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Metrolinx is firing back at Bombardier in the wake of a blistering court filing targeting the transit agency, saying that the company built a prototype vehicle that wouldn't even turn on.

The allegation was dismissed by the company, which argues the transit agency is dragging its heels on accepting the vehicle.

The bitter battle over the $770-million contract to supply light rail vehicles to Toronto burst into the open last week with a court filing from the Quebec-based company.

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A senior person at Bombardier familiar with the process says the company had to go to court after months of behind-the-scenes talks with Metrolinx hit an impasse. Its motion for an injunction, which has not been tested in court, suggests the provincial government is using delays as an excuse to slip out of the contract.

The status of the prototype, known as a pilot vehicle, is an example of how far apart the sides remain. On Tuesday, Metrolinx offered new details about how it alleges the prototype failed when it went to inspect it.

"We have sent teams to complete walk-throughs of the pilot vehicle, and found that the pilot vehicle is currently not capable of meeting the most basic functional requirement, such as taking power from its overhead catenary and turning on," Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins said in a statement.

Bombardier insists the vehicle is performing properly.

"Static testing includes computer power-up and mechanical and electrical systems tests, including lights and overhead power collection equipment," company spokesman Mike Nadolski said in an e-mail. "The pilot cars are only powered from the overhead when they begin dynamic (moving) testing on the test tracks, which starts after completion of static testing."

For months, Bombardier has sat largely quiet as criticism was heaped on it by the Ontario government and its transit agency, Metrolinx.

Through this period, though, anxiety was mounting at the company. Although the Metrolinx order is small from the point of view of a firm its size, the drip-drip-drip of bad press risked serious damage to its reputation. The company became worried that the transit agency would walk away, threatening Bombardier's supply chain, its employees and its cash flow, as well as undermining its ability to bid on upcoming contracts.

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The legal filing was its first extended public statement on the matter. The filing is highly critical – alleging that Metrolinx staff are inefficient and unexperienced – and is an extraordinary move for a company that says it wants to rebuild its relationship with the transit agency.

The company acknowledges it was an unusual move, but argues it had no option but to push back after negotiations on several issues failed. Beyond the pilot vehicle, there were unresolved questions about how many vehicles the agency actually wanted and whether the agency's deadlines should move to reflect changing transit plans.

The Bombardier executive said that discussions with Metrolinx had hit a dead end, making it impossible for the company to work productively with its client. And when the transit agency failed to meet a Feb. 3 deadline to appoint its representative to a key dispute review panel – a forum Bombardier hoped would conclude the company wasn't in default of its responsibilities – the company concluded Metrolinx was on the verge of killing the contract.

On Feb. 10, Bombardier – which in recent weeks has been working with powerhouse communications firm Navigator – fired its legal salvo. Its motion seeking an injunction that would prevent the transit agency from cancelling the contract was filed Friday. It is likely to be heard next week, according to one source, after failed attempts to fit it into the court schedule more quickly.

Metrolinx has not responded in detail to the allegations raised by the court filing.

This week, though, provincial Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca has been highly critical of the newly aggressive PR stance Bombardier has taken, which includes circulating images of the disputed prototype vehicle.

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"I find it interesting that in the span of a few days, Bombardier has chosen to pursue legal action and release videos," he said in a statement provided Monday. "As anyone who has followed the delays involving the TTC streetcars knows, it would be better for all involved if all of our suppliers focused on meeting deadlines instead of playing games."

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