Reports: CRRC MBTA Railcar Delays Mount

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
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MBTA photo

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) officials were recently notified that delivery of new Red and Orange Line railcars from CRRC (China Railway Rolling Stock Corp.) will be postponed further because the firm “expects it will need several more months to finish manufacturing” due to “nagging pandemic-related supply and labor issues.”

The MBTA officials voiced their concern over the delay at the agency’s Sept. 29 Board of Directors meeting, CommonWealth Magazine and WGBH Boston reported.

According to the CommonWealth report, CRRC, which was originally expected to deliver all 152 Orange Line cars by January 2022 and all 252 Red Line cars by September 2023, projects it will deliver the last batch of Orange Line cars to the T in summer 2023 and the final Red Line cars in summer 2025. That would represent 17 months past the contract’s due date for the Orange Line and 21 months late for the Red Line, said MBTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville. Two years ago, according to the report, the MBTA announced the target completion dates were delayed until April 2023 for the Orange Line and September 2024 for the Red Line.

Gonneville said the MBTA feels “as though CRRC does need to make some changes to manufacturing” to even make those dates, adding that MBTA inspectors are finding quality issues as cars are built. And as those are addressed, it “disrupts production.”

MBTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville

“Since the first new Orange Line car began carrying passengers in 2019, the vehicles have faced a string of issues and have been pulled from service several times while MBTA crews identified and then fixed manufacturing issues,” according to the CommonWealth report.

Massachusetts transportation officials “emphasized when they announced the latest hiccup Thursday that they have not endorsed CRRC’s revised schedule and would explore several options, including triggering a contract clause that would require the company to pay hefty damages for late completion, to mitigate another slowdown,” according to the CommonWealth report.

“It’s important to make sure that the schedule that’s presented is what they are telling us. There’s a lot to be determined if they can achieve that given past performance, but most importantly, we have not accepted that,” Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler told the MBTA Board of Directors. “Your and everybody’s comments so far underscore that as a board, we expect better.”

According to the CommonWealth report, the pair of contracts between the MBTA and CRRC, which were awarded in 2014 and together are worth more than $880 million, “seek to replace the entire Red and Orange Line subway fleets with brand-new vehicles, a transformative project that officials have long pledged will increase the system’s capacity and allow them to run trains more frequently.”

“We can’t go on like this. We desperately need cars,” said Board Member Mary Beth Mello. According to the CommonWealth report, Board Chair Betsy Taylor “asked to be included in the next quarterly meeting between MBTA senior leadership and CRRC executives, stressing to Gonneville that ‘they need to understand how deeply the board is concerned with the progress as you describe it.’”

CRRC MBTA Red Line cars.

According to the CommonWealth report, CRRC, which is manufacturing the cars in Springfield, Mass., is “much further along on the Orange Line,” with the carbodies for all 152 cars having been produced; 72 completed railcars are in service thanks to the recent 30-day M/W blitz on that line. Of the 252 Red Line carbodies, only 32 have been produced; 12 railcars are complete and operating on that line.

CRRC MBTA Orange Line cars.

“Under the contract, CRRC could face damages of $500 per car per day delivered past the due date. It’s not yet clear exactly how that would get calculated, but the clause looms as a possible major charge to recoup some of what the T spent or as a powerful stick to usher CRRC toward faster work,” according to the CommonWealth report.

“We have strong contractual language that does protect the agency, at least from a financial standpoint. That is financial leverage to ensure that we in the end will get the cars that we need,” Gonneville said.

Still, according to the CommonWealth report, Gonneville stressed that the MBTA “want(s) to continue its partnership with CRRC.”

“Certainly, I think all of us can agree that the impacts of COVID-19 and other things potentially could be out of the control of CRRC, and those are the things we will engage in a conversation with CRRC when the time does come,” Gonneville said.

WGBH reports that Gonneville also “expressed concerns about the number and retention of workers at the CRRC plant, and that the agency is now actively managing and monitoring CRRC to improve production.”

According to the CommonWealth report, the Springfield site has approximately 250 production and manufacturing employees, about 180 of whom work on MBTA trains, Gonneville said. He added, in response to a board question, that those employees typically work the first shift Monday through Friday and “are not working around the clock at this point,” and that “other workers at the facility are working on projects for Los Angeles’s Metro, and in the spring, they will also start work on cars for Philadelphia’s SEPTA.

“That’s very scary, Jeff, when you get into that,” MBTA Board Member Robert Butler interjected. “Everybody’s having trouble getting people as well as us at the T. That’s scary right there.”

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