MBTA could wait even longer for new cars – NBC Boston

The outlook for the already delayed transition to entirely new Orange and Red Line fleets continues to worsen.

After previously delaying the planned end date of the project by at least a year, Chinese company CRRC now expects it will need several more months to complete manufacturing of the metro cars for the Red and orange from the MBTA due to ongoing pandemic-related supply and labor issues.

Massachusetts transportation officials emphasized when they announced the latest setback Thursday that they had not approved the CRRC’s revised schedule and would explore several options, including triggering a contract clause that would require the company to pay heavy damages for late completion, in order to ease another downturn.

“It’s important to make sure that the schedule presented matches what they tell us. There’s a lot to determine if they can achieve that given past performance, but crucially we haven’t accepted that.” , Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler said. MBTA Board of Directors. “Your feedback and everyone else’s feedback so far underscores that as a board we expect better.”

The pair of contracts between MBTA and CRRC, worth a total of more than $880 million, aims to replace the entire red and orange line subway fleets with all-new vehicles, a transformation project that officials have long promised to increase the system’s capacity and allow them to run trains more frequently.

The CRRC was originally expected to deliver the 152 Orange Line cars by January 2022 and the 252 Red Line cars by September 2023. Two years ago, the MBTA announced that target completion dates had been postponed to April 2023 for the orange line and to September 2024 for the red line. Line.

Now MBTA deputy general manager Jeff Gonneville said on Thursday that the Chinese locomotive giant expects it to deliver the last batch of Orange Line cars to the T in the summer of 2023 and the last Red Line cars in the summer. 2025. This would represent 17 months after the end of the contract. due date for the orange line and 21 months late for the red line.

MBTA supervisors have expressed concern over the latest CRRC update.

“We can’t go on like this. We desperately need cars,” said board member Mary Beth Mello. Board Chair Betsy Taylor asked to be included in the upcoming quarterly meeting between MBTA senior management and CRRC leaders, stressing to Gonneville that “they need to understand how much the board is concerned about progress as you describe it”.

CRRC is much further down the orange line. The shells of the 152 cars have already been produced and 78 are already in the MBTA’s Wellington car house or actively providing passenger service, Gonneville said. For the Red Line, only 32 of the 252 car shells were produced, of which 12 are complete and available for MBTA use.

“The position taken by CRRC is that they are currently primarily focused on the Orange Line fleet,” Gonneville said.

Gonneville said most of the delays stem from production issues at CRRC’s facility in Springfield, where final assembly takes place after initial manufacturing overseas. The western Massachusetts site is struggling with low material supplies and employee retention, both of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quality assurance is another factor that has slowed progress, Gonneville said, and may require a change in approach to even meet the revised CRRC schedule.

“We find that we identify issues through inspection, and those issues then disrupt the efficiency of the production flow, because the CRRC has to go back, fix or correct those quality issues, which then disrupts the workflow. production in the Springfield plant itself,” he said. “It’s really because of that that we, the project team, the MBTA, feel that CRRC needs to make some changes to their manufacturing in Springfield to even be able to meet those dates that they are planning.”

Gonneville detailed several steps the T has taken or will take to manage the situation. MBTA representatives and staff are embedded at the Springfield plant, and the agency has also audited each production station to highlight possible improvements CRRC can make.

Under the contract, CRRC could face damages of $500 per car per day delivered after the due date. It is not yet clear exactly how this would be calculated, but the clause is shaping up as a possible major charge to recover some of what the T has spent or as a powerful baton to move the CRRC towards faster work.

“We have strong contract language that protects the agency, at least from a financial standpoint. It’s financial leverage to make sure we eventually get the cars we need,” Gonneville said.

Still, he stressed that the MBTA leadership team “wants (or wants) to continue our partnership with the CRRC.

“Certainly, I think we can all agree that the impacts of COVID-19 and other things could potentially be beyond CRRC’s control, and those are the things we will engage in conversation with CRRC when the time comes,” says Gonneville.

The MBTA awarded the manufacturing contracts in 2014, the last year in office of former Governor Deval Patrick. If the CRRC’s projections hold true, the whole effort won’t end until Patrick’s successor’s successor is halfway through his term.

Since the first new Orange Line car began carrying passengers in 2019, the vehicles have faced a series of issues and been removed from service on several occasions while MBTA teams identified and then resolved manufacturing issues.

The Springfield site has about 250 production and manufacturing employees, about 180 of whom work on MBTA trains, Gonneville said. He added in response to a question from the board that these employees typically work the first shift Monday through Friday and “do not work 24 hours a day at this stage.”

Other workers at the plant are working on projects for the Los Angeles subway, and in the spring they will also begin work on cars for Philadelphia’s SEPTA, according to Gonneville.

“It’s very scary, Jeff, when you walk into this,” said MBTA board member Robert Butler. “Everyone struggles to get people as good as us at the T. It’s scary there.”

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