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Minutes from the February 24, 2009 Meeting

Discussion summary and action items from the February 24, 2009 monthly HLR meeting.

One item was added to the agenda: discussion around the February 4, 2009 Spectator article on a possible city LRT bill.

Campaign: Manufacture LRT in Hamilton

Nicholas summarized the case for making Hamilton an LRT manufacturing centre. HLR was formed to advocate for LRT in Hamilton, and now that the city officially supports LRT and is working with Metrolinx, which should render a decision on the B-Line this July, HLR should focus on arranging to ensure that Hamilton becomes a centre for manufacturing new LRT systems.

HLR has always advocated LRT primarily as an engine for economic development, and phase two of this development is spinoff growth in manufacturing LRT. Some 75 American cities, plus many Canadian cities (and several projects through the GTA+H), are seriously considering installing LRT systems, but there are zero domestic manufacturers.

Bombardier, a Canadian company, currently does all its LRT manufacturing in Europe and is booked solid for five years.

It is common for places that take a lead on building LRT to become manufacturing centres as well. European LRT manufacturing facilities in France and Germany are connected to decisions in those countries to build LRT, and Oregon Ironworks in Portland is currently building a prototype of a Czech design that it hopes to sell domestically.

The American Stimulus Package includes a major "Buy American" component (though Canadian manufacturers may be included in this), and it makes political sense for Ontario to do something similar. Since Ontario's automobile manufacturing sector is shrinking and Premier McGuinty has said he wants to see growth in new areas, this is consistent with LRT expansion.

Hamilton is an excellent candidate to become a local centre of LRT manufacturing. It has abundant industrial lands, an already skilled workforce transitioning out of traditional industries, and a history of manufacturing rail systems (National Steel Car still manufactures rolling stock here and is the single largest manufacturer of freight cars in North America).

Further, McMaster University has world-class experties in steel making, and the Canadian Government's Materials Technology Laboratory (CanMet) is moving to McMaster Innovation Park.

Discussion

In the discussion around this, HLR volunteers debated the competitiveness of a new domestic manufacturing facility compared to a mature "steady state" offshore facility and the suggestion that a local manufacturer could start by licencing an existing design and building expertise - if the political will exists as an incentive for a company to do this.

Another issue was timelines. A short, five-year timeline may be tight to set up domestic manufacturing, but one participant noted that National Steel Car is building a manufacturing facility in Alabama that will be operational in 18 months.

However, it may turn out to be more feasible to outsource the first batch and work on a domestic industry as a longer-term project. In any case, it was deemed important to approach the issue with a 'sense of urgency' and to get the local manfacturing initiatitve off the ground as quickly as possible to get the maximum benefit from it.

Another issue was how much of the groundwork HLR should attempt to cover. On the one hand, much of the more detailed technical and feasibility studies fall outside our expertise level (and credibility, for that matter); but our experience with advocating LRT in Hamilton suggests that we shouldn't leave it up to policymakers to do the work for us.

Another benefit to the local manufacturing argument is that it may help to strengthen support for LRT after July, when Metrolinx releases its full benefits analysis of the B-Line. Some councillors who supported LRT if the province pays 100% may waver if Hamilton has to cover even a small share of the cost, and a strong local economic growth argument through spinoff manufacturing would build further support for LRT.

After much discussion, it was decided unanimously that the most constructive order of activities for HLR to adopt is the following:

  1. Develop a basic presentation on LRT manufacturing: the market size, the growth potential, and so on.
  2. Convince the Mayor's Office to convene a meeting of potential stakeholders to develop a plan:
    • Mayor's Office
    • City Department of Planning and Economic Development
    • Hamilton Light Rail
    • Chamber of Commerce
    • Jobs Prosperity Collaborative
    • Metrolinx
    • McMaster University
    • Mohawk College
Action Items:
  • Nicholas: develop a back-of-the-envelope market study
  • Ryan: Contact Mayor's office and attempt to arrange a meeting
  • Peter: Present initiative to the Chamber of Commerce's Science, Technology Innovation Committee (STIC).

LRT Cost to City

After the publication of the minutes from January's HLR meeting, in which we reported that Metrolinx has hinted that they expect the city to contribute a small share (approx. 15 percent) of the capital costs for LRT, a report in the Hamilton Spectator paraphrased Metrolinx Chair Rob MacIsaac clarifying his position on the matter:

MacIsaac doesn't expect that any city's lack of funding support will see its rapid transit lines downgraded, for example, from rail to buses. He doesn't want to speculate on what fallout there may be if a city refuses to contribute.

This seems to represent a shift in the position that Metrolinx officials have taken in the past with members of HLR.

Pan Am Stadium Bid

It was emphasized that the city faces several capital budget pressures in the next few years, including the Pan Am Games bid and the planned upgrades to the municipal water treatment system.

Rather than a 'competitor' for scarce municipal capital dollars, the Pan Am Stadium proposal should be seen as complementary with LRT, especially given the proposed location near the LRT line and the historic importance given to transit to enhance the viability of events-related amenity constructions (e.g. Montreal Metro built to support Expo 67; see also Paul Wilson's recent Spectator column on Pan Am and LRT). LRT and a new downtown stadium could support each other.

Action Items:
  • Ryan: Contact City Rapid Transit Office and ask for an update on their activities.