IL: CTA Nears Deal on More Than 800 New Rail Cars

Jan. 28--Bombardier Transit Corp. emerged Monday as the lead bidder for the CTA's next-generation rail car, one that will avoid the unpopular design trait in the agency's newest cars that requires seated passengers to face the torsos of those standing.

The Montreal-based company bid $1.39 billion to make 846 of the agency's 7000 Series cars with a hybrid seating arrangement over 10 years, officials disclosed at a bid-opening Monday.

The company is completing delivery of 714 cars featuring center-facing seating, called the 5000 Series, through 2015 under a $1.14 billion contract.

That seating configuration has drawn the ire of riders, who complained about scoop-seat benches that result in passengers sitting shoulder-to-shoulder while also being at eye level to the torsos of standing passengers.

Bombardier's bid and a second one, submitted by Sumitomo Corp. of America and its manufacturing partner, Nippon Sharyo U.S.A., each would provide several alternatives in their 7000 Series designs, which consist of forward- and backward-facing seats, a roughly equal number of aisle-facing single seats and seat pairs and flip-up seats to accommodate wheelchairs.

About 90 percent of the 38 seats on the 5000 Series are aisle-facing, and the CTA has no plans to eliminate the center-facing seating on the remainder of the 5000 Series order, officials said.

The CTA has received 388 5000 Series cars from Bombardier so far, officials said. The cars are assembled in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Sumitomo and Nippon Sharyo, which submitted a $1.55 billion bid to build 846 7000 Series rail cars, have not sold rail cars to the CTA before.

The transit agency anticipates awarding a contract by the summer, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said. Delivery of the first 7000 Series cars would occur in late 2017 or early 2018, he said.

Nippon Sharyo is manufacturing 160 commuter Highliner coaches for Metra's Electric District at the company's plant in Rochelle, Ill.

A third rail car manufacturer that expressed interest in the contract, Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., did not submit a bid.

Before the bids were opened at CTA headquarters, the transit agency valued the 7000 Series contract at up to $2 billion.

By law, the CTA is required to award the contract to the "lowest responsive and responsible bidder," Steele said.

The aesthetic proposals submitted for the stainless-steel exteriors of the 7000 Series rail cars are similar to those of the existing CTA fleet. The CTA specified in its request for proposals that the 7000 Series cars must be compatible to operate with the 5000 Series cars.

The CTA is looking to reduce the average age of its rail fleet to less than 10 years by about 2022, officials have said. The current fleet numbers about 1,200 rail cars and will increase over the next decade to accommodate expected ridership growth, officials said.

Sumitomo's bid was highly anticipated by some state and local officials because Nippon Sharyo's manufacturing plant in Rochelle could create more jobs.

Bombardier was seen as having an edge because it won the 5000 Series contract. That deal, however, suffered a major setback starting in late 2011 when production was temporarily halted after CTA inspectors at Bombardier's Plattsburgh plant discovered defective and potentially dangerous parts in the rail car truck assembly that contains the wheels. The bad parts, made in China, were replaced at Bombardier's expense.

A separate quality-control problem arose last year when missing welds were discovered on brackets along the four corners in the interior of the 5000 Series rail car frames, CTA officials said. The welding irregularities, which could have compromised the structural integrity of the cars, were discovered by Bombardier employees and deliveries were stopped for a month while repairs were made on about 240 cars, officials said.

Both Bombardier's and Sumitomo's 7000 Series bid submissions adhered to a "Buy America" voluntary CTA provision. It asks manufacturers to disclose any plans about new jobs they might create in the U.S. It marks the first time the CTA has asked bidders to submit such information.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter @jhilkevitch

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