A rail-car-manufacturing deal that was touted by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as a major job-maker for recession-ravaged L.A. fell through over the weekend, sending his go-go transportation agenda a little off track.

The plan was to have Italian rail-car maker AnsaldoBreda build a 650-job factory in L.A. in order to fill a Metropolitan Transportation Authority order for 100 rail cars. Construction of the factory alone was trumpeted as a 1,000-job project.

A deadline loomed and AnsaldoBreda didn't ink the deal in time. The company is already a few years behind on a separate MTA contract to deliver 50 rail cars that are considerably heavier (by 6,000 pounds each) than specified. They're so heavy, in fact, that they might not even be usable on certain rail lines. The Italian company is three years late on that deal and has only delivered about one-third of the order.

The signs to walk away couldn't have been louder. But Villaraigosa supporter Billionaire Steve Bing wanted to have his company build the rail-car plant downtown, and the pressure was on to bring the Italians to town.

The MTA states that AnsaldoBreda tried to change the terms of the impending contract last minute, asking that “financial penalties for late deliveries” be dropped from the deal. Metro, smarting from the already-late delivery of its earlier, 50-car order (the cars were so much heavier than specified that the company offered two free ones as consolation) declined and the deadline to ink a final contract passed. It might be a misstep for Villaraigosa, but taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief that AnsaldoBreda will be out of the picture. Dump the Metro finagler already.

The fallout won't mean a recall election for the mayor, but it does offer a setback in his recent series of ambitious proclamations about the city's transportation infrastructure. On Oct. 22 Villaraigosa heralded the MTA board's approval of a regional, 30-year, almost-$300 billion Long Range Transportation Plan.

Then, last week, the mayor was front and center as the Gold Line Eastside Extension trains began rolling in anticipation of their Nov. 15 official opening. On Friday he trumpeted his already known ambition to see certain rail projects, particularly the “subway to the sea” along Wilshire Boulevard, accelerated from a 30-year timeline to an unheard-of 10-year span.

We've teased the mayor about his challenges in getting a grip on an issue he can hang his star on. It clearly won't be education, as he had hoped. But transportation might just be Villaraigosa's golden political ticket. We need to move around this region in a more efficient manner, and Villaraigosa has tapped into a multibillion-dollar pipeline of sales tax and federal funds that will likely reshape the region: He has earned kudos for getting the county behind Measure R, a sales tax increase that will light a $40 billion fire under the MTA's long range plan.

But you live by the sword, you die by the sword. The AnsaldoBreda contract was a sweetheart deal for a company that couldn't even deliver on an order not half as large. If the MTA can hand out a $300 million contract to make rail cars in L.A., then companies in this economy should be lining up to do it right and on-time. It should have been a slam dunk. The AnsaldoBreda affair, as the nerds might say, is a total FAIL.

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