The head of the union representing most workers at Thunder Bay's Alstom plant expresses cautious optimism about the company's chance of winning a big contract for new subway cars for Toronto.
Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino said if that happens, he believes "at least a portion of that work will be done in the Thunder Bay plant."
The Toronto Transit Commission recently published a request for proposals for 480 subway cars at an estimated cost of $2.3 billion. Alstom Transport Canada Inc. is one of four companies that pre-qualified to submit proposals.
The others are all based in Asia — CRRC Qingdao Sifang Co. in China, Hyundai Rotem Company of South Korea and Japan's Kawasaki Rail Car Inc.
Delivery of the first of 80 six-car train sets, mostly to replace cars reaching their end of their life, would begin in 2027 and be completed by 2033.
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the City of Toronto has committed $624 million for the project, and that the TTC is "having discussions with our federal and provincial partners about additional funding, and hope to hear more from them early next year."
According to TTC documents, "significant progress has been made in securing tripartite funding" to enhance subway capacity, including procuring new vehicles for the fleet. The closing date for submissions from bidders is July 2023.
According to Pasqualino, the Thunder Bay plant last supplied subway cars to the TTC in 2016, when it was still owned by Bombardier.
"I've been in constant conversations with both the plant manager and higher-ups at Alstom, and they are looking at this new project as a good fit for the plant," he told TBnewswatch in an interview Monday. "It remains to be seen how much would be done in our plant, because in the past some work as done in other Bombardier plants, and I suspect it will be the same with Alstom."
Nonetheless, he said the subway contract is vital for the future of the Thunder Bay assembly line.
"If a good percentage of that job doesn't go to our plant or if Alstom is unsuccessful in getting that bid, that doesn't look very good for us," he said.
Pasqualino believes there's currently enough confirmed work to keep the plant running until 2025, and that the company is actively pursuing more orders. "The 2027 date isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we will have some gaps if we don't find some more work before that. And I know Alstom is seeking work to make sure there's a continuous run in the plant," he said.
About 150 Unifor members are currently working at the plant, which has an order for 60 TTC streetcars and a contract to refurbish 94 GO Transit bi-level coaches.
Pasqualino said the staged recall of the 300 workers laid off last spring is proceeding slowly as work ramps up at the plant. Peak employment at the Thunder Bay plant in recent years was 1,200.
In a brief statement provided to TBnewswatch, a New York-based spokesperson for Alstom said the company is "delighted" to be a pre-qualified proponent for new subway trains.
"Over the years, our innovative, reliable made-in-Canada rail products have established themselves as a signature of Toronto's cityscape and contribute daily to the sustainable economic and social development of our Canadian cities," said Michelle Stein, vice-president/communications.
But her statement did not address an inquiry from TBnewswatch about whether work will be assigned to Thunder Bay if the bid is successful.
"We look forward to furthering that legacy and leveraging the expertise from our Canadian operations to deliver the best product and create value for all stakeholders," Stein said in closing.