Sound Transit picks Japanese firm to build train cars for light-rail line

Sound Transit has picked a Japanese company to build the cars for its planned Seattle light-rail line.

King County Executive Ron Sims, who also is Sound Transit's board chairman, announced yesterday that the agency's staff has chosen Kinkisharyo International to design, build and test 31 vehicles for the 14-mile line from downtown Seattle to Tukwila.

The $108.6 million deal still must be approved by the Sound Transit board, whose finance committee is scheduled to consider it Dec. 4. Including taxes and allowances for contingencies and inflation, the total price tag for the cars could rise to $131.8 million.

But that's still $6.5 million less than Sound Transit had budgeted, Sims said.

Kinkisharyo International, a wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of Kinki Sharyo of Japan, submitted its proposal as part of a joint venture with Mitsui USA, which will be involved in financing, insuring and shipping the cars.

Kinkisharyo has built light-rail vehicles for transit agencies in Dallas, Boston, northern New Jersey and San Jose, Calif., and just last week was chosen to provide cars for a new light-rail line in Phoenix.

Winston Simmonds, Sound Transit's light-rail systems-engineering manager, said Sound Transit's cars will have the same chassis that Kinkisharyo designed for San Jose.

Under federal rules, at least 60 percent of the vehicle's components must be manufactured in the U.S. Final assembly will take place at a site to be determined in the Seattle area. Kinkisharyo's Don Boss said the work would provide 15 to 20 jobs.

Kinkisharyo's package wasn't the low bid. Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said Bombardier Transit of Canada offered to build the cars for about $2 million less.

But "price is only one factor," Sims said. A committee of Sound Transit and King County Metro officials also factored in nonmonetary considerations. Simmonds said Kinkisharyo scored high for delivering reliable vehicles on time and on budget, and for demonstrating an ability to accommodate change orders without affecting schedule or quality.

In addition to Kinkisharyo and Bombardier, Patrick said three other companies submitted proposals: Ansaldobreda of Italy, CAF USA of Spain and Siemens Transportation Systems of Germany. All five firms have built light-rail cars for U.S. cities.

Patrick would not reveal information about the losing companies' proposals, including their bids.

To do so before the contract has been officially awarded might damage taxpayer interests if something unexpected occurred and competition reopened, he said.

Sound Transit said the first Kinkisharyo car will be delivered in three years, the last in five. The $2.44 billion line is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2009, with two-car trains running every six minutes during peak hours.

Each electric-powered, air-conditioned vehicle will be 95 feet long, with a driver cab at each end, and will be "double-articulated" to bend in two places rounding curves. The cars will be "low-floor" — no stairs, for easier boarding — and will have space for four wheelchairs and four bicycles.

Each car will seat 74 and have a capacity of 200. Vehicles will have a maximum speed of 55 mph, and Sound Transit estimates a trip along the line's entire 14-mile length will take 33 minutes.

The Kinkisharyo agreement also gives Sound Transit options to buy up to 31 more vehicles, Patrick said.

Yesterday's announcement was another milestone for Sound Transit, whose original plan for a 21-mile light-rail line from the University District to SeaTac was derailed nearly three years ago by major cost overruns.

The agency scaled back and finally broke ground earlier this month after winning a long struggle for a federal funding guarantee.

"We're making up a lot of lost time," Sims said yesterday. "The only message we want to send is, 'We're rolling.' "

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or