Trains received from a Chinese company | Brand new and unused

Carrier exo is still not using its fleet of new Chinese commuter trains, more than two years after it started receiving them, due to technical problems, it has been learned The Press.

The carrier received 24 cars from Beijing-based state-owned CRRC and is expecting 20 more of the same. Total bill: more than 200 million. Deliveries were made significantly late on the initial schedule.

At the time of the first deliveries, in February 2022, exo indicated that commissioning would begin “at the beginning of 2023”, after a year of integration. The deadline was then regularly postponed. According to our information, the teams of experts have notably detected communication problems between the cars. Exo says they have now been resolved.

On March 13, the boss of exo announced in a public meeting that the trains would begin to be put into service “in the coming weeks”. The organization now says it hopes to be able to welcome its first passengers “by summer”.

“These are normal problems that we encounter when we integrate new equipment into an already existing fleet,” assured Catherine Maurice, spokesperson for exo. “We misjudged the additional time it would take to do these integration tests. » She argued that part of the integration should have been done in China, which was made difficult by the pandemic.


Exo train at the Pointe-Saint-Charles marshalling yard

Initially, the cars were to be put into service from June 2019. According to the Treasury Board’s infrastructure dashboard, the full commissioning of the first 24 cars is planned for September 2027, which represents a delay of seven years on the initial plans. At exo, we argue that this is only a technical deadline, which marks the end of its investments in the acquisition program.

CRRC did not call back The Press.

“Systemic problems”

Exo’s trains are far from the only CRRC products to make headlines: North American transit companies have experienced major problems with their orders from the Chinese company. The company had beaten Bombardier Transportation (now Alstom) in many tenders in the years before the pandemic.

“There are systemic problems,” said Bob Cantwell, a US railway equipment industry expert who contributes to the online media outlet Railway Age.

They took on way too many contracts, even though they had never done business in North America before.

Bob Cantwell, American railway equipment industry specialist

Last month, Philadelphia canceled a US$185 million contract dating from 2017 for which it had not received any trains. In March, Boston agreed to give the Chinese company US$275 million more than expected, in payments and penalty waivers, in hopes of receiving its 404 subway cars. The first cars delivered had experienced significant mechanical problems, including improperly installed brake bolts and doors that could open while in motion, according to the local transport company.


Aerial view of the Exo rail yard in Pointe-Saint-Charles

“It becomes a repeating scenario: CRRC bids with very low prices, but they are not able to deliver a quality product,” continued Mr. Cantwell. “The competitors were taken out of the game, Bombardier in particular. »

“Satisfied with the quality of the product”

At exo, however, we assure that we are not in the same boat as American transport companies.

“We are satisfied with the quality of the product we have in hand,” said spokesperson Catherine Maurice in a telephone interview. “We must still remember that all critical equipment, including communications equipment, is Canadian equipment. »


CRRC trains are intended for the line linking Montreal to Saint-Jérôme.

The trains are intended for the commuter train line that connects Montreal to Saint-Jérôme.

The customer experience will really be renewed. There is comfort that is truly at the cutting edge of what is done in the railway world.

Catherine Maurice, exo spokesperson

This train order was the subject of a first call for tenders in 2015. Bombardier Transportation was the only bidder, but its price was too high for the tastes of the Metropolitan Transport Agency (AMT), the ancestor of exo. The process was restarted by lowering the minimum Canadian content quota, which allowed CRRC to offer its trains well below officials’ estimates.


Exo is waiting for another 20 cars from CRRC.

CRRC has since been singled out by the Pentagon for its ties to the Chinese military and for its use of materials possibly derived from child labor, according to The Montreal Journal.

In 2019, the U.S. Congress passed a law that almost systematically prevents the use of CRRC for federally funded infrastructure contracts.

“There are credible security and espionage issues related to the acquisition of train cars from a company controlled by the Chinese government,” argued at the time Senator Mark R. Warner, who proposed the law Project. The decision came as CRRC prepared to bid on a major Washington Metro contract.


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