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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Bombardier, Amtrak trade barbs as disagreement leads to lawsuit


Bombardier Corp. Nov. 8 filed a $200 million suit against Amtrak in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming the national passenger railroad disrupted its ability to produce and deliver the Acela Express high-speed trainsets in a timely and efficient manner, causing major cost overruns.

"Track quality and train design go hand in hand," said Bombardier Corp. President Peter Stangl in a prepared statement. "Had Amtrak delivered the quality of tracks required for high-speed service, we could have avoided costly and time-consuming testing and the trains would now be running at full speed."

The manufacturer’s complaint also states Amtrak provided inaccurate information relative to tunnel dimensions, and Northeast Corridor electromagnetic interference and track geometry. And Bombardier claims Amtrak delayed making decisions on major technical issues and design details, further delaying progress in critical areas, and leading to production modifications and design revisions.

"We ask that Amtrak take responsibility for its shortcomings on the Acela project, so that we can resolve all outstanding issues," said Stangl.

Not so fast, said Amtrak in a Nov. 8 rebuttal.

"The consortium’s record of failure — including design, subcontractor oversight, production and compliance with Buy American requirements — is staggering," said Amtrak officials, adding that Bombardier’s consortium partner, Alstom, is not participating in the lawsuit. "Under terms of the contract signed in 1996, Amtrak has asserted or reserved its right to assert claims in excess of $250 million."

Such claims arise from Bombardier’s delivering the trainsets more than a year late, with continuing delays for the final five sets; speed restrictions because the trainsets don’t meet contract specifications when operated on track that fully complies with all Federal Railroad Administration requirements; and failure to meet Buy-America requirements, provide on-time and adequate maintenance, and comply with warranty obligations.

"Amtrak’s contract with the consortium is quite explicit. There is no ambiguity," said Amtrak officials. "There is an agreed-upon process that requires that claims first be submitted to Amtrak and then a dispute-resolution board, which it has refused to do."

The trainsets, which were originally scheduled for fall 1999 delivery were delayed first in September 1999, then again in spring 2000 when it was discovered the trains’ trucks were hunting at high speeds. Acela Express finally began service Dec. 11, 2000. Amtrak officials were counting heavily on Acela Express revenue to aid the railroad’s mandated quest for operational self-sufficiency — a quest Amtrak Reform Council Nov. 9 declared now is impossible.

"While we regret having to resort to legal action in this matter, we have reached an impasse in our discussions with Amtrak and see no other alternative to protect our rights and resolve this dispute," said Bombardier’s Stangl.

Amtrak officials expect Bombardier to live up to its contract responsibilities to manage day-to-day train maintenance.

"Amtrak will refute Bombardier’s specious allegations in an appropriate forum," officials said. "In the meantime, the consortium can expect Amtrak to be ever more vigilant enforcing its rights an demanding delivery of the trains the manufacturers have agreed to build."