Thunder Bay

Province says new GO Transit order may be coming to Thunder Bay Bombardier plant

Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford announced Wednesday morning that Ontario has issued a mandate to Metrolinx authorizing the expansion of its service. Bombardier COO David Van der Wee said yesterday that the company is in talks with Metrolinx, but the company says no contract has yet been signed for any new cars.

Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford made the announcement Wednesday morning

Unifor union local president Dominic Pasqualino (left) and Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford (right) at a press conference in Thunder Bay, Ont., Wednesday morning. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

The province says an order of 36 more rail cars for southern Ontario's GO Transit system may be coming to Thunder Bay's Bombardier plant.

Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford announced Wednesday morning that his government has issued a mandate to Metrolinx, which operates the Go service, to expand its service. With that, "Metrolinx has proposed to Bombardier to add an additional 36 train cars that will be built here at the Thunder Bay facility," he said.

"This option is on the table," he said. "I'm hopeful that Bombardier will come to the table and continue to have productive discussions, and Metrolinx will ensure that this order is fulfilled at a fair price for taxpayers."  

Bombardier's chief operating officer for the Americas, David Van der Wee told CBC News on Tuesday that the company had begun conversations with Metrolinx about possible new business for the Thunder Bay plant but that no new contracts had been signed.  A company spokesperson confirmed to CBC Wednesday that the company does not currently have a contract for the 36 new cars. 

A spokesperson for Metrolinx confirmed to CBC that it has received a mandate from the province to expand its Go service.

"To support this growth, we have identified a need for 36 more cars we could purchase from Bombardier, providing the price is right," Metrolinx media relations and issues specialist Fannie Sunshine told CBC in an email. "These would build out of its Thunder Bay facility."

In addition to discussing the new order, Metrolinx is also offering to extend the delivery time on the 63 cars remaining in Bombardier's current contract, Rickford told reporters Wednesday morning at the Unifor office in Thunder Bay. Unifor represents hundreds of workers at the northwestern Ontario facility.

Possible timeline extension on current Metrolinx contract

The current Metrolinx contract is scheduled for completion in early 2020 — at almost precisely the same time as another major contact for the Toronto Transit Commission wraps up.

The expanded timeline would allow the company to be more flexible in scheduling work in hopes of reducing layoffs at the end of the year, said Dominic Pasqualino, the president of Unifor local 1075, the local that represents the Bombardier plant workers. 

The potential order for 36 GO train cars is also "a bridge to another prospect at another day," Rickford told CBC News.

Asked whether the province's takeover of future Toronto subway expansions could lead to more long-term work for the facility, Rickford would not offer a specific commitment.

"Our promise was to protect jobs for people in Ontario," he said. "We think when we've got the capacity to build homegrown product with homegrown talent, and we've got a homegrown project to expand transit in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, we need to look at ourselves and see where we can best do that and where the greatest prospect is — and it's right here in Thunder Bay." 

Rickford's announcements come a day after company officials with Bombardier held a meeting with staff at the local plant, warning that layoffs were coming as its two major contracts — one producing streetcars for the Toronto Transit Commission and the other producing bi-level rail cars for Metrolinx — were scheduled to end by 2020.

"This is a first step in the right direction, however, it cannot be an end in itself," a spokesperson for Bombardier said of the announcement in a statement emailed to CBC. "To keep a facility the size of Thunder Bay in operation, which produced 277 cars in the last two years (2017 and 2018) and is on its way to deliver over 160 vehicles this year, we know we must continue the effort to secure much more work."

Bombardier's Thunder Bay plant is the city's largest private sector employer, with about 1,100 workers.