Monday, 1 March 2010

Montreal Metro Car Saga Underscores Importance of Playing by the Rules, in the First Place

Today is the last day for companies and consortiums to submit "letters of interest" in building Métro cars for Montreal. It seems likely that the Spanish group CAF will answer the call, as will, evidently the Bombardier-Alstom consortium that a whole lot of people had the job in the bag a couple of years ago. The Chinese company Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive may do so also, even if they want to construct cars with steel wheels instead of the pneumatic ones which have been Montreal's pride for four decades.

All this activity will probably put back the acquisition of more than 400 new cars, rolling stock which is badly needed both to replace aging cars and to respond to increased Métro use. That's bad news.

But what's even worse news is what set the scene for this delay. The Quebec government, which will pick up some 75 per cent of the tab, and Bombardier, the Quebec industrial giant with a special expertise in rail construction, negotiated a deal in 2006 without a public call for bids. But Alstom successfully challenged in court the way the contract was awarded. This meant that negotiations were re-opened with the result that Alstom got a cut of the deal. Now other international companies see no reason why they can't bid too--and are ready to challenge exclusion in the courts.

Moral: don't try to short cut established bidding procedures.

Memo to Premier Jean Charest: is this another example of fall out from playing footsie with your friends?

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