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Bombardier presentation to the Transport Action Group

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Transport Action Group at the Firehall Library March 9

Steve Hall of Bombardier

Steve Hall of Bombardier

I was invited to attend a presentation by Steve Hall of  Bombardier. The group is the former Transport 2000 which has now adopted a new identity nationally. Before transcribing my notes I looked at what I wrote on January 15 after my sneak preview, since much of the material he presented I had already seen from that event. I hope I have avoided any duplication.

His topic was entitled “Light rail” but what he addressed were the current sate of the rail business and the trends trends that are now shaping it. Bombardier has a turnover of around $20bn pa with 96% of revenues come from outside Canada. The business splits roughly 50/50 between aerospace and rail – in fact they are now the largest rail equipment supplier in the world. The two businesses are counter cyclical: business jets are mot much in demand due to the recession but rail spending is increasing due to the  “climate change push” and US federal stimulus funding. The rail business employs 34,000 people across 50 engineering sites, which collectively have a 2 -3 year’s backlog of orders to deliver worth  $24.7bn. They have delivered over 100,000 railcars to 60+ countries. The customers are governments, with 73% of the revenue from Europe and only 10% in North America. The fastest growing part of the business is the service sector – that is running and maintaining trains and signalling systems.

The most significant trends influencing the business are urbanization, population growth, road traffic congestion, oil scarcity and rising energy costs. 23% of the world’s manmade greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation – only 1% of which comes from rail. In Metro Vancouver it is estimated that costs of congestion exceed $1.2bn a year. The US is seeing the highest demand for transit in 50 years. In Europe demand doubled in recent years, and there is huge growth in the Asia/Pacific region.

The specific trends influencing Bombardier’s approach to the rail business are

#1 push towards full automation – eg Madrid – driven by reaching the maximum capacity of the existing infrastructure: automation allows for the closer spacing of trains and also produces operational cost savings.

#2 push for High Speed Rail – US investment in ten corridors – China is planning 6000km of HSR – $155bn – for speeds of up to 350km/h. Bombardier has 3,000 employees in China and now has a huge order for its Zefiro 380 which will begin deliveries in 2012.

#3 unprecedented expenditures in Research & Development. In Bombardier this includes MITRAC energy storage – essentially a bank of super capacitors that are more efficient than batteries and the development of Primove – a no catenary, no contact induced power delivery system which is currently on a test track in Bautzen, Germany.

#4 rebirth of interest in streetcars and light rail. There have been 30 new projects in Europe in last ten years. These have been driven by the question “How do you get people out of their cars?”  Most projects in North America take 10 to 15 years in planning, but one major order has been for 204 replacement cars for the Toronto Transit Commission. These cars have to cope with 11.2m curves (the sharpest in North America) they are single ended with doors on one side only and use the non-standard TTC gauge. There are options for 400 more for new lines, and it is expected that expansions to the light rail network in the Toronto region will be at standard gauge.

Bombardier’s Flexity tram as used on the Olympic Line is aimed at delivering a capacity of 2,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd) to 6000 pphpd at average service speeds of between 12 to 34km/h. He emphasized that there is no single answer – no technology meets all needs. The Brussels design has older trucks with motors on the outside of the frame. This produces the narrow car cross-section over the truck but newer designs now offer a wider flat floor area.

trams in Valencia

Valencia, Spain

The choice of technology and vehicle is not driven by technical issues but rather the clients’ view of the kind of city they want to see int he future. Their vision determines design and materials. For instance, research shows that there is a perception of a health risk of using transit (concerns about contagious diseases like H1N1 or SARS) so they now use materials in the interiors that kill all germs for a year.

In many European cities  there is growing interest in the “tram train” which operates at higher speeds on main line railway track for longer distances in the outer suburbs,  then goes to onstreet running in city centres. This could be the solution needed for Rail for the Valley [and indeed exactly describes how the interurban was running 100 years ago!].

What Bombardier now offers is the “empty room concept”. The technical components are standardized to keep costs down but the operator can specify exactly what they want for the interior. This is based on their design concepts and reflects local values. It is worth noting that Brussels had been plagued for year with graffiti and vandalism on its trams but the introduction of the Flexity with its leather seats and high quality interior fittings has produced a dramatic decline.

Trans in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey


Talent diesel multiple units are not now being sold in any number (most recent Talent deliveries have been electric). There is not enough demand to develop a car that could meet (US) FRA standards.

Bombardier have delivered over 1,000 bi-level commuter rail cars – a design that is now 30 years old.

SkyTrain: they  have sold over 700 cars “that’s a successful product for us”. He acknowledged that it is a “niche market”.  “It wins on operating cost. On the original SkyTrain cars the linear motors are now 25 years old have never been touched.”

The streetcar gets positive public reception wherever it is proposed. This is in strong contrast to almost every other type of rail project

He also acknowledged that P3s are complicated but they are interested when there is a need to get smaller amounts raised. He pointed to the original  McQuarie studies. He also emphasized that the point is risk transfer not cost savings – Bombardier cannot borrow money as cheaply as a government.

Asked about rubber tyre solutions he pointed out that they started in the rail business with the Montreal subway. “We bet the company, since snowmobiles went in the tank”.He pointed out that Taipei works at 30 deg every day but dealing with ice and snow is different.

“Nobody has taken the bicycle into account successfully. We need to look at that in a different way. Biking and walking are the fastest growing portion of trips. What would a BC car look like? People respond to what they are offered.”

Written by Stephen Rees

March 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Light Rail, Railway, transit

12 Responses

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  1. I find the comment that “On the original SkyTrain cars the linear motors are now 25 years old have never been touched.”

    In Toronto, the TTC has a standing contract with an electrical firm to rebuild the LIMs, and our mark I’s are the same age as Vancouver’s. You, however, don’t get the snow and ice we have.

    Steve Munro

    March 10, 2010 at 1:45 pm

  2. I have punted around for opinions about Bombardier’s claims and the response has been somewhat tepid.

    The claim for 700 SkyTrain cars must include Mk.1 cars and cars under option. SkyTrain is such a success that no one buys with it, with only 7 such systems built since the late 1970’s; and soon there will only be 6.

    Me thinks he boasts too much.

    The claim that automation is cheaper only works on heavily used metro lines as just the Expo Line is about 60% more to operate than Calgary’s LRT, which also carries more passengers.

    S. Munro’s post duplicates what I was going to say about the LIM’s but I must add, todays electric motors for LRT and metro are very robust and I believe Siemens guarantees them for 40 years!

    It has been reported in T&UT, that 40 year old second hand trams from Germany being sold abroad for another 20 to 30 years of service, have found before refurbishment, that the electric motors are still sound.

    The French have been using contactless ‘third rail’ for several years and after a few ‘gremlins’ have found it works well, but expensive to install.

    As for TramTrain and Rail for the Valley, we are way ahead of you, as TramTrain is the only viable solution for the reinstatement of the interurban. There is a lot more to say on that subject, but I will defer to John Buker before I say more.

    Malcolm J

    March 10, 2010 at 3:13 pm

  3. Great post Stephen. Anyone from TranLink and/ or the Ministry of Transportation in attendance? How knowledgeable about transit is Shirley Bond by the way?? any chance you could interview her??

    The SkyTrain technology–linear motor–may be great, and cheap, but having a conventional system would have allowed for the use of train sets from different manufacturers. We would also be able to have a ALRT running on an elevated section from VVC Clark to Cambie st (now nearly a pipe dream anyway, as so much of the land between Main and Cambie is covered by condos North of Second avenue) then switch to ground level on Broadway (the way the Seattle LRT goes from tunnel to ground level then an elevated section)

    Red frog

    March 10, 2010 at 3:24 pm

  4. There was one employee of Translink that I know of present, but not in an official capacity. No-one identified themselves as being from the MoT – and given the nature of that group that would be highly unlikely. Shirley Bond does not pretend to be knowledgeable about transit – nor should that be necessary of any elected politician. Experts should be on tap not on top.

    We have what we have and we should make the best of it.

    The longevity of electric motors in traction applications is not remarkable. Southern Railway – subsequently Southern Region, British Rail – regularly recovered and reused traction motors from scrapped trains

    Stephen Rees

    March 10, 2010 at 3:36 pm

  5. One point to remember, the LIM itself maybe cheap, but the many kilometers of reaction rail needed costs money and then there is the constant maintenance, due to wheel/tire & track wear, to maintain that critical 1 cm air-gap between LIM and reaction rail.

    Malcolm J

    March 10, 2010 at 5:30 pm

  6. Malcolm does have a point, while the LIM motors may have not been touched in 25 years, the rail has certainly has …

    Dave 2

    March 10, 2010 at 7:20 pm

  7. Not sure you compare things rightly:

    does the reused motor never got changed their bearing or brushes…?

    i guess it should be the whole propulsion/braking chain to be compared…apple to apple

    (means subway to subway with similar service, mileage, braking, acceleration…)…and sure the reaction rail require maintenance…


    March 10, 2010 at 9:32 pm

  8. Of course I don’t expect Ms Bond or any politician to know all about the technologies of various transit system. What I meant to say is does she has any experience of tramways, subways, commuter trains etc. as a USER? it is pretty hard to be an advocate for anything if you don’t have a clue. Unfortunately in B.C a majority of people have no familiarity with urban rapid transit and long distance fast trains and this goes a long way to explain why there is so much reluctance to give financial help to these public transportation systems.
    In other countries politicians used city transit and long distance trains etc. well before they entered politics and still use these every so often after being elected.

    Red frog

    March 10, 2010 at 10:48 pm

  9. From Dave2’s link as per jhenifer:

    “It is difficult to compare linear induction motor (LIM) system against traction motor systems as used in the Canada Line. The LIM motor itself requires minimum maintenance involving an annual clean up of debris or foreign objects in the motor enclosure. For the traction motor system, there are various moving parts that require more maintenance than for the LIM system. However, the reaction rail for the LIM systems requires extra maintenance effort. The maintenance cost for both maybe neutral. It is difficult to do a maintenance cost comparison at this time. ”

    @red frog: in fairness to Ms. Bond, she is from the riding of Prince George – Valemount.


    March 11, 2010 at 8:31 am

  10. “there is no single answer – no technology meets all needs.”

    “The choice of technology and vehicle is not driven by technical issues but rather the clients’ view of the kind of city they want to see int he future.”

    The quality of the resulting urban space seems to be gaining traction in transportation planning. That’s all to the good.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    March 11, 2010 at 10:30 am

  11. The comparison of LIM’s to DC traction motors is useless as no one really uses DC traction motors in transit vehicles anymore. Main line railway locomotives still have a lot of DC motors though. Major maintenance items on DC motors were the brushes and commutator wear. Now that we have solid state controllers most transit systems use AC motors which do not have these parts and they only weigh about a third that of a DC motors. This reduces track wear.

    From the diagrams that I can see of the Flexity 2 trucks they would appear to have gearless AC traction motors which eliminates any gear wear. A major advantage rotary motors have over linear is in efficiency, over 85% versus 25 to 30%.

    I don’t know about Vancouver but the reaction rail in Toronto tends to vibrate and sounds like an old fluorescent light ballast transformer. This noise is constant and loud whenever the cars are moving.

    The LIM’s cause the car to levitate slightly when it is moving and this seems to cause excess rail corrugations which have to ground down much more than subway and street car rail. The motor maintenance might be less but I will bet that all other maintenance and power costs are greater.

    Robert Wightman

    March 11, 2010 at 12:15 pm

  12. I was at the meeting on Tuesday night. Our group doesn’t have any members from the MoT, but we do have people who have experience in transit. Besides TransLink there is a guy who was involved in the construction of the Edmonton LRT, another in the original SeaBus and SkyTrain systems, a former TTC employee, a current volunteer Olympic Line driver, and many lay people like myself.

    Steve said that the Olympic line, while costing a lot for Bombardier, is proving to be a good investment for them. Many transit officials came to Vancouver just to see the Olympic line as the Flexity is the first example of a 100% low-floor vehicle in North America. Apparently it costs Bombardier about $600,000 just to ship the trams to Vancouver and back to Brussels.

    Nice summary Stephen.

    Matthew Buchanan

    March 11, 2010 at 9:42 pm

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