THE HEALEY ADMINISTRATION is hustling to speed production of new subway cars, but the transit system is still years away from getting its full order filled.
After a series of revelations about the Springfield plant where Chinese company CRRC is producing new Orange and Red Line cars, including a pause in delivery of new cars for seven months, transportation leaders say production is moving in the right direction, albeit at a crawl.
“We’ve seen between the work of the MBTA force and the CRRC force is they have worked very hard to improve production and get the quality of the cars where they are exceeding the contractual requirements of that contract,” MBTA General Manager Phil Eng said at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce panel on Tuesday. “The production is not where we need it to be, but it is improving. And they’ve committed to even improving that now going forward.”
The Boston Herald first reported that CRRC was sending cars to the MBTA in “unacceptable” condition as recently as June 7.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said 92 new Orange Line cars had been delivered as of Tuesday, with two more to be delivered Wednesday. Just 12 new Red Line cars have been delivered. The state has a $870.5 million agreement for 152 new Orange Line cars and 252 Red Line cars, and the Healey administration hired consultants to speed production earlier this year.
“The MBTA continues to work closely with CRRC MA with a goal of accelerating the production and delivery schedule, but at this point, there is no update to the schedule that was provided earlier this year to the MBTA Board,” Pesaturo said in an email.
Interim GM Jeff Gonneville told the MBTA Board that the Orange Line order is expected to be completed by December of this year, compared with the contractual completion date of January 2022, and the Red Line cars should be delivered by September 2026 rather than this September as contracted.
Jim Rooney, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, was deferential about the business community’s eagerness to work with the transit system, but he did not mince words about the various exasperating realities of the T.
“I mentioned the confidence issue in terms of service, reliability, safety,” he said, but there are laundry lists of other issues impacting consumer and business confidence: “Project management at the T, a fare collection system that’s delayed for years, the Red and Orange Line cars delayed for years. I could go down a list of projects that are either over budget or behind schedule that you walked into.”
Rooney asked Eng and Secretary of Transportation Gina Fiandaca “your assessment of the capacity to manage those big projects, particularly in the case of the Red and Orange Line, the challenges of holding those vendors accountable, that you’ve also walked into?”
Aside from just assessing the on-the-ground realities of production, Fiandaca emphasized a general need to support the workers at the facility and “make it clear” that they expect delivery of the vehicles.
“We need these cars. We’re depending on them,” Fiandaca said. She and Eng visited the facility and “we have sort of reset the expectations for this contract. [I’m] happy to report that we are receiving cars that are safe and meeting the needs of the MBTA on a consistent basis.”
There has been no change to the terms of the CRRC’s contract, Pesaturo said.
As for the financial and temporal cost, Eng said the T is in shared company with other cities trying to upgrade their rolling stock. The design expense is a one-time, non-recurring charge, he said, but then the manufacturing and assembly process hits a “learning curve.”
“These are highly complex pieces of equipment that are being built, and in many cases built for each system so that they need to fit the geometry to fit the needs of that system,” he said. “But what we had with the Red and Orange cars is where I will prioritize making sure that we get the quality and the safety, you know, over the schedule.”