• Ontario Northland shops bounce back

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Canada. For specific railroad questions, see Fallen Flags and Active Railroads categories.
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Canada. For specific railroad questions, see Fallen Flags and Active Railroads categories.

Moderator: Ken V

  by labaienordique
Ontario Northland shops bounce back

Ontario Northland is never going back to being so dependent on a single client that it will be at risk again, says the president of the provincial Crown corporation.

Earlier this year the company faced the possibility of layoffs after Metrolinx, another provincial Crown corporation, awarded a $120-million contract to a Montreal-area company to refurbish GO Transit cars.

Ontario Northland was just completing a similar contract for Metrolinx, which operates GO Transit, but lost the new contract by $2 million.

"We went through a period of time where we were wondering what was around the corner," Paul Goulet says. "We lost a very close bid. It was a fair bid, but it was hard to lose."

And while it looked as though ON would have to lay off 100-plus jobs, it is instead planning to place want ads this weekend to hire up to 30 more people for the refurbishment shops in the new year.

"There are four contracts in the house that will provide us with work for the next year-and-a-half," Goulet says. "Nobody got laid off. That was my primary objective, to make sure (layoffs) would not happen."

Ontario Northland is now in the process of refurbishing 10 GO Transit cars, 10 Polar Bear Express cars and 24 cars from Montreal's Agence metropolitaine de transport (AMT).

As well, Ontario Northland has already delivered two repainted cars to Rocky Mountaineer, part of a deal to pain seven cars for the B.C.-based excursion railway.

"It's not as extensive as the other projects," Goulet says, but it is still worth several months' employment in the refurbishment shops.

Goulet says the fact the contract came to North Bay speaks volumes about the quality of work done here.

"There aren't very many companies capable of doing what we are doing," Goulet says, and after the GO contract went to Quebec, the company made a renewed effort to drum up more business.

"We have a solid reputation, and it's made its way well beyond our borders," both into the United States and across the country, he says.

"You need a rail facility, a paint shop and skilled trades people," he says. "We have all those elements in North Bay. We've got the best workforce in Canada. They do extraordinarily good work there."

He says it is a real feather in the cap for the workers when the company is "able to go out into the market and they've all heard of you, positively."

The refurbishment shop, he says, has given the Crown corporation a new niche, one he says the company fully intends to exploit.

At the same time, he says, the company is still working toward a strategic alliance with Metrolinx that will direct work from one Crown corporation to the other without the need for a competitive bidding process.

CAW Local 103 president Brian Kelly, representing workers at the refurbishment shop, says the year is ending up on a much more positive note than most people expected when the contract went to Quebec.

"In June, things were looking quite dire," he says, crediting ON management, the community and stakeholders for helping to turn things around.

"It was really good work on management's part, rolling up their sleeves" and finding more contracts for the workers.

But the big payoff, he says, will be when Ontario Northland and Metrolinx are able to complete the strategic alliance.

"We're going to hold the (provincial) government to its promises" about developing an alliance, he says, "so in the future we won't have to go through the rigmarole we went through this year."

The refurbishment shops employ more than 100 people, and Goulet says he expects another 30 or so will be hired in the new year.

The company is also looking at further contracts to bid on in the next little while to keep the shops working after the existing contracts are completed.

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