MBTA may wait even longer for brand new cars

BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS) — The outlook for an already delayed transition to an entirely new Orange and Red Line fleet appears to be getting worse.

After previously delaying the project’s targeted completion date by at least a year, Chinese firm CRRC now hopes to complete construction of subway cars for the MBTA’s Red and Orange Lines as a result of supply and labor issues related to the pandemic. That would require several more months.

Massachusetts transportation officials stressed when they announced the latest hiccup on Thursday that they did not support CRRC’s revised schedule and would explore a range of options, including triggering a contract clause, requiring the company to avert another downturn. For late completion heavy losses would be required to be paid.

“It’s important to make sure that the program that’s presented is what they’re telling us. There’s a lot to determine if they can get past the performance, but most importantly, we’ve Haven’t accepted it,” Transportation Secretary Jamie Tesler told the MBTA’s board of directors. “Your and everyone’s comments so far underscore that as a board, we expect better.”

The pairing of contracts between MBTA and CRRC, together valued at more than $880 million, seeks to replace the entire Red and Orange Line subway fleet with new vehicles, a transformational project that officials have long pledged, the system. and allow them to run trains more frequently. CRRC was originally expected to deliver all 152 Orange Line cars by January 2022 and all 252 Red Line cars by September 2023. Two years ago, the MBTA announced that the target completion dates were delayed until April 2023 for the Orange Line and September 2024 for the Red. Line.

Now, MBTA deputy general manager Jeff Gonneville said Thursday, the Chinese locomotive giant projects it will deliver the last batch of Orange Line cars in the summer of 2023 and the last of the Red Line cars in the summer of 2025. This would represent the first 17 months of the contract. Due date for Orange Line and 21 months delay for Red Line.

MBTA overseers expressed concern about the latest update of CRRC. “We can’t run like this. We desperately need cars,” said board member Mary Beth Mello. Board chairman Betsy Taylor asked to attend the next quarterly meeting between MBTA senior leadership and CRRC officials , stressing Gonneville that “they need to understand how deeply the board is related to progress as you describe it.”

CRRC is far ahead on the Orange Line. Shells have already been designed for all 152 cars, and 78 are already in the MBTA’s Wellington Car House or are actively providing passenger service, Gonneville said. For the Red Line, only 32 of the 252 car shells have been produced, 12 of which are complete and available for MBTA use. “The position that CRRC has taken is focusing primarily on the Orange Line fleet right now,” Gonville said.

Gonville said most of the delay stemmed from production issues at CRRC’s facility in Springfield, where initial manufacturing overseas is followed by final assembly. The western Massachusetts site is grappling with short supplies of content and employee retention, both of which were decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Quality assurance is another factor that has slowed progress, Gonville said, and one that may require a change in approach from the CRRC to hit the revised timeline.

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“We are seeing that we are identifying issues through inspection, and those issues then impede the efficiency of the production flow, as CRRC has to go back, fix, or fix quality issues that are Then Springfield interrupts the flow of production at the facility,” he said. “It is precisely because of this that we, the project team, MBTA, feel that CRRC needs to make some changes to their construction in Springfield to be able to meet these dates.”

Gonville details a number of steps taken or to be taken by T to manage the situation. MBTA representatives and staff are embedded in the Springfield facility, and the agency also audits each production station to uncover potential improvements CRRC can make.

Under the contract, CRRC may face damages of up to $500 per car per day delivered before the due date. It is not yet clear how this will be calculated, but the clause serves as a powerful stick to bring CRRC toward some or faster work expended by T as a potential principal charge. “We have strong contractual language that protects the agency, at least from a financial standpoint. It has the financial leverage to make sure we finally get the cars we need,” Gonville said.

Nevertheless, he stressed that the MBTA’s leadership team “looks to continue our partnership with CRRC.” “Certainly, I think we can all agree that the effects of COVID-19 and other things could potentially be beyond the control of the CRRC, and these are things we can do with the CRRC when the time comes. Will engage in conversation with.” Gonville said.

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The MBTA awarded manufacturing contracts in 2014 during former Government Deval Patrick’s final year in office. If the CRRC’s estimates are correct, the entire effort will not end until halfway through the term of Patrick’s successor’s successor.

As the first new Orange Line car began carrying passengers in 2019, the vehicles suffered a number of issues and were pulled from service several times, while MBTA crews identified and then corrected manufacturing issues. The Springfield site has about 250 production and manufacturing workers, about 180 of whom work on MBTA trains, Gonneville said. He said in response to a question from the board that those employees usually work the first shift from Monday to Friday and “are not working round the clock at this point.”

According to Gonville, other employees at the facility are working on projects for Los Angeles’ subway, and in the spring, they’ll also begin work on cars for Philadelphia’s SEPTA. MBTA board member Robert Butler interjected, “It’s so scary, Jeff, when you get into that.” “Everyone is having trouble with people as well as T. It’s scary right there.”