Maura Healey Says State Will Examine MBTA Chinese Train Contract

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By Sam Drysdale
State House News Service

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is convening an independent team to get to the bottom of the delays in construction and delivery of more than 300 new Red and Orange Line cars, Governor Maura Healey announced to reporters Thursday afternoon after taking a ride on the Red Line and touring the T’s operations center.

The team will include management experts to “evaluate what changes and process improvements need to be implemented now, in order to accelerate the delivery of cars,” by looking into manufacturing management operations, delivery schedule, market conditions, and the contractual terms the MBTA has with Chinese rail company CRRC.

The T has for years had contracts worth nearly $900 million with CRRC to replace the entire Red and Orange Line fleet with 404 brand new vehicles, but the timeline has been kicked down the road several times, most recently to December 2023 for the Orange Line and December 2026 for the Red Line.

“There’s a significant delay in the delivery, the production, and delivery of Red and Orange Line cars and the project is way behind schedule,” Healey said. “Some alarming details have emerged about the quality of the production process.”

Healey said she and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll rode a Red Line train from 1986 on Thursday, February 2, which she called “in the middle of the pack in terms of the age of some of our Red Lines.”

In addition to the delays in the delivery of more than three quarters of the promised vehicles, new Orange Line trains were pulled out of service in December 2022 after a routine inspection of one of the new CRRC-manufactured cars discovered power cable problems. Meanwhile, reports have surfaced of an “error-prone” factory in Springfield where the new cars are being assembled.

The governor said she and her administration had only become aware of the problem “just a couple of weeks ago.”

The team of independent experts, who were not named on Thursday, is going to look at the contractual terms with the intention of reworking the contract to “expedite, accelerate the delivery of those cars,” as well as looking into what’s happening at the factory for the same purpose.

Members of the new technical team include engineers from LTK Engineering, as well as lawyers and other consultants, according to Healey’s press secretary Karissa Hand.

“They are beginning their work immediately,” Hand said. “There are currently supervisory staff and consultants reviewing operations at the Springfield factory, but this new team will be specifically focused on accelerating the delivery of cars and improving safety.”

“We understand that time is of the essence here and we are already under way on this effort since we became aware of it just a couple of weeks ago,” Healey said.

CRRC may not have too many future prospects in the United States due to a Trump-era policy that barred the use of federal funding for transit infrastructure from Chinese companies.

When asked if the law might disincentivize the company from making good on contract deadlines and providing replacement trains in the future, Healey said the state wants to make its contracts with CRRC work.

“This was a deal that was struck many, many years ago. Unfortunately, during the Trump presidency, certain actions were taken that definitely impacted the work that they’re doing here domestically. That said, they have existing contracts, and we want to make those contracts work,” Healey said.

Addressing other major concerns on the management of the transit system, the governor also discussed increasing the T’s workforce and improving transparency around delays and shutdowns.

Healey promised in her inaugural speech to fund the hiring of 1,000 new T workers in her first year in office. She reminded reporters of that pledge on Thursday, saying more details would come in her budget due by March 1, after calling the workforce shortages the “root of so many challenges” at the T.

“We are going to look to work with our community colleges, our vocational schools, technical schools, apprenticeship programs, to identify and train the next generation of workers,” Healey said. “We want to make these jobs more desirable and provide the training and professional development opportunities to folks.”

The governor’s plan includes streamlining the hiring process and creating more opportunities for advancement from entry-level positions.

On transparency, the MBTA will publish a “detailed reporting system” on slow zones that Healey said will be made public “as soon as possible.”

Slow zones have made a number of headlines recently, especially on the Orange Line, where they stubbornly persist despite a month-long line-wide shutdown this past summer to fix them.

The MBTA’s new system will collect information on slow zones and communicate that information “immediately to the public,” Healey said.

In about a month, the T is also planning to release its response to the Federal Transit Administration’s safety management inspection report that it released this summer. The report included safety directives for the MBTA and orders to make progress on them or risk losing its federal funds if it fails to address the orders.

“This site, which will be on the site, will be regularly updated to show the progress against the entire set of corrective action plans that the MBTA is working on,” Healey said. “Riders will be able to stay completely up to date on how we are responding to safety concerns.”

Though she announced several new initiatives the T will be taking, Healey has not yet named a new general manager, despite being almost a month into her time in office.

“I don’t think there’s been a holdup. I think we’ve moved really quickly, as expeditiously as possible, also as thoroughly as possible,” Healey said. “This is a really important position.”

The state is using a search firm to find a candidate for the role, and the governor echoed her comments from a few weeks ago that “it will be weeks, not months” to fill the position.

When asked if the state will need to raise the salary for the incoming general manager to attract the right person for the job, Healey said, “we’re going to have to evaluate.”

“Right now, we’re about identifying the right person,” she said.


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