New BART cars for riders could be delayed by 1½ years under a proposal that aims to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States.
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French manufacturer Alstom is being backed by labor groups that are impressed by the pledge to locate 95 percent of the train production domestically. The company has been pleading with BART to reopen the bidding process on its $2.5 billion car-replacement project. The transit agency, which has the oldest fleet of trains in the country, recently recommended Bombardier, a Canadian group, for the contract.
Although Alstom’s 95 percent “Buy America” pledge tops Bombardier’s 66 percent participation rate, the French company’s bid proposal for the project was $184 million more expensive than the Canadian firm’s. Scott Emblidge, a lawyer representing Alstom, said the French group could legally come back within 90 days with a lower bid, since the BART board of directors has not completed the contract process.
However, BART general counsel Matthew Burrows said the bidding process ended when the agency recommended Bombardier. If BART wanted to consider a new Alstom proposal, under federal laws, BART would have to reopen the bidding — a process that would take at least 18 months and cost an extra $110 million in escalating project prices, BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said.
Despite the prospect of delays, labor groups have been pushing hard for BART to go with Alstom.
Tom Brandon of the California Conference of Machinists said BART should avoid the “horror movie” of the Bay Bridge rebuild project, which relied heavily on foreign manufacturing jobs but has been beset by cost overruns and delays.
The BART board of directors, which discussed the contract Thursday, offered differing opinions on the contract decision.
“We’ve got to do something differently,” Director Lynette Sweet said of the Bombardier recommendation. “This is not something we can live down if we don’t do it right the first time.”
Director James Fang said he’d be willing to reopen the bid process, because it could result in a lower final offer for the project.
However, the majority of the nine-person board seemed to side with the agency’s recommendation.
“I can’t see the benefit of delaying and rebidding,” Director Thomas Blalock said. “I’ve got too much experience with rebidding — something always goes wrong.”
Along with the cost escalation, a delay could jeopardize BART’s extension project into San Jose.
BART plans to use 60 of its new trains for that project, but if the contract is delayed, the agency would either have to push back the 2016 opening of the San Jose extension, or take more trains off its existing service, Oversier said.
BART’s board of directors is scheduled to vote May 10 on the car replacement project.
95 Percent of work on new BART trains carried out in the U.S. under Alstom’s proposal
66 Percent of work carried out in the U.S. under Bombardier
- $1.72B Alstom’s bid
- $1.54B Bombardier’s bid*
- $184M Difference in bids
** While Bombardier’s contract is for $1.5 billion, the total cost of the project is $2.5 billion, due to added contingency, escalation, design and administration fees.