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When Bombardier began introducing its S Stock trains into service on the London Underground in 2010, no one was impressed.
Deliveries of the British-built units were erratic and out-of-sequence. The service was unreliable. Trains stalled, doors stuck, air conditioning failed and software systems were less-than-smooth, according to a report in Modern Railways. Late in 2011, some deliveries were suspended; others simply weren’t accepted.
Since a massive order of 191 transit cars was involved, Montreal-based Bombardier quickly sought outside help. It hired JBA Corp., the same consulting group that is now advising Rideau Transit Group about how to fix its botched rollout of Ottawa’s light rail transit service.
Bombardier’s 2011 rollout was back on schedule within six months under JBA’s guidance, and it would deliver the last of the trains of this particular order in 2015. How did JBA produce the turnaround? A case study on its website offers only a few clues — basic stuff like identifying the issues causing the problems, assigning personnel to track daily progress and generally making sure engineering and production employees were continuously aware of the latest fixes.
Concentrating on the basics this way could certainly help RTG’s light rail service, which has been plagued by similar types of issues.
But JBA — and its founder James Boyle — are also facing a more complex set of problems than they did at Bombardier. RTG, after all, is a shell owned by three separate companies — ACS Infrastructure, EllisDon and SNC-Lavalin. Many of the technical issues have emerged from the trains cars (built by Alstom) and software (Thales Engineering and others). These are suppliers to RTG and it’s possible the light rail system’s failings to date may have nothing to do with the products they build. It could be a complicated knock-on effect from some other aspect of the $2.1-billion project.
Boyle’s personal history might be relevant here. According to his LinkedIn profile, Boyle has been intimately involved in the rail industry for more than two decades. This included stints at Alstom as a reliability engineer (1995 to 1998) and at Bombardier Transportation, where he managed the introduction of trains into service from 2000 to 2003. The consultant was also vice-president of operations between 2005 and 2007 for Metronet, the entity then in charge of modernizing a good chunk of the London Underground’s infrastructure.
But in the summer of 2007, Metronet sought the British equivalent of bankruptcy protection because spending had got out of hand. “The overall direct loss to taxpayers arising from Metronet’s administration is between $360 million and $860 million,” a report of the British government’s comptroller and auditor general concluded. “The main cause of Metronet’s failure was its poor corporate governance and leadership,” the report added.
But the report also makes clear this wasn’t necessarily the fault of Metronet’s top managers.
The auditor general pointed out that five shareholders comprised Metronet, including Bombardier, meaning that many key decisions had to be agreed upon by all five firms. Since the shareholders were all suppliers to the London Underground, their interests weren’t always aligned in favour of Metronet. Indeed, the report noted that individual shareholders had power over the scope of work to be done and insisted on being paid for extra work.
Little wonder the expenses escalated.
Metronet eventually disappeared into a government agency. And James Boyle, meanwhile, had acquired a wealth of experience in dealing with multiple government and private sector entities.
Will it help him and his JBA consultants in Ottawa? Maybe. The city’s beleaguered commuters would like nothing better to see them earn their generous fees.
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