IL: CTA Rejected Partial Fix to New Rail Cars

March 09--Caught by CTA inspectors with installing defective steel parts made by a Chinese supplier on new rail cars, officials at Bombardier Transportation tried to cut a deal with the transit agency to replace only the worst parts initially, according to an oversight report by the federal government.

CTA officials said Thursday that they flatly rejected Bombardier's argument that the partial change-out of steel castings was acceptable in cases where the internal flaws on the weight-bearing castings did not appear to occur at key stress points.

Bombardier's idea was to replace the other defective parts later during routine maintenance once the trains began passenger service in Chicago, CTA officials said.

Instead, all-new parts, manufactured by two different suppliers and tested vigorously to verify their structural integrity, will be installed on the 706 rail cars the CTA ordered from Bombardier in a $1.14 billion deal, CTA officials said.

"We insisted on full replacement of all defective parts,'' CTA President Forrest Claypool said. "We were disappointed that we found defective parts and the supplier in question was providing an inferior product. Bombardier has fired that supplier, and we have taken steps to improve the quality assurance in the supply chain process.''

The Tribune reported Thursday that the defective parts could break and potentially cause a moving train to derail.

The high rejection rate of the defective steel castings made by the now-former Bombardier supplier, the Sifang foundry of Qingdao, China, should have "raised alarms'' at Bombardier, according to the report issued by the Federal Transit Administration.

"It is unclear whether or not Bombardier has performed audits of the casting supplier, reviewed the supplier's quality-assurance processes or visited the manufacturing facility in China,'' the report said.

The CTA demanded that Bombardier send its own personnel into the foundries to monitor manufacturing. Bombardier has also hired an independent laboratory to perform chemical analysis on the steel used for the castings of the journal bearing housings, which surround the axle bearings of the trains.

Bombardier engineers will then review the results of that chemical analysis, CTA officials said.

A Bombardier spokeswoman said Thursday evening that she was not familiar with the Federal Transit Administration report, but she promised to check into the matter on Friday.

The report noted that although Bombardier began production of the CTA rail cars last June, quality-related problems ranging from battery-charging systems to sticking brake calipers caused the manufacturer to delay ramping up the production rate until October.

The CTA in mid-December removed from service all 54 Bombardier 5000 Series rail cars that had been delivered when questions first surfaced over the journal bearing housings produced by Sifang.

Full production of new cars is expected to resume soon after the defective housings are replaced.

The CTA hopes to reintroduce the cars to service in May, officials said.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter @jhilkevitch

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