When the TTC began rolling out its new Rocket subway trains last summer, they were hailed as state-of-the-art vehicles that would deliver a much-needed upgrade to Toronto's aging transit system.
But 17 months after they first hit the rails, there are still significant problems with the commission's flagship vehicles. Despite their speedy name, the Rockets simply aren't running on time, thanks to a glitch that can prevent their doors from closing properly.
In his most recent monthly report, TTC CEO Andy Byford described the vehicles' performance as "unacceptable." He's taken the unusual step of calling a special meeting with top brass at the subways' manufacturer, Bombardier Inc., to impress upon the company "the need for substantial improvement in the performance" of the trains.
"I'm concerned that we've not yet achieved the reliability that we'd expect from those new trains," Byford said in an interview Monday. "We want to work with Bombardier to iron out these problems. To be fair to them, they want to do that too. Their reputation is on the line, this is a new product and they want to see it succeed."
A delegation from the Montreal-based company, including
CEO Pierre Beaudoin president of North American operations Raymond Bachant, is expected in Toronto on Friday.
The TTC's latest monthly scorecard shows that trains on the Yonge-University-Spadina line where the Rockets are deployed are on schedule only 92.7 per cent of the time, well below the commission's reliability target of 96 per cent.
Although the punctuality problems on the busy subway route aren't all attributable to the Rocket's design, a nagging flaw with the trains' doors remains a significant cause of delay.
For a train to draw power, all of its doors must be completely closed, completing an electrical circuit. The doors on the Rocket don't always close properly, meaning the system has to be reset and the doors closed again, delaying the train from leaving the station for several seconds. If the doors are forced to reset several times, the system shuts down, and the train has to be taken out of service to be rebooted.
Both the TTC and Bombardier have been aware of the problem for months and have been working to fix it. But while Byford says it's normal for new rail systems to have "teething issues," improvements to the Rocket aren't coming fast enough.
The good news is that there is still time to fix the glitch with the new subway fleet. The TTC has received only 27 of the 70 Rocket trains Bombardier was contracted to deliver by 2014, and the goal is to eliminate the problem in future waves of production.
Byford says that Bombardier, which is also building the city's new streetcar fleet, is taking his concerns seriously and he's confident they can work together to resolve the bug.
"Once we get the doors sorted out, I think it will be a really good train," Byford said.
Bombardier did not immediately return a request for comment.
The TTC chief also plans to use Friday's meeting to seek non-critical improvements to the Rocket's design, including installing more overhead handles in the centre of the cars. Riders have reported are too few places to hold onto during the rush hour push.
Correction: This article originally stated that Andy Byford was meeting with the CEO of Bombardier. In fact the meeting is with Raymond Bachant, president of North American operations for the company.