Problems have continued to plague the production of new Orange and Red Line trains, the latest of which involved the Chinese contractor submitting unfinished cars to the MBTA for final inspection and delivery.
The condition of these cars was described as “unacceptable” by one MBTA manager in a June 7 email to CRRC MA representatives, obtained by the Herald.
A separate email goes into more detail, stating that paint repairs had not been completed. Cars were submitted for inspection with “parts sanded down to bare metal.” Multiple connectors were also seen hanging on the underframes.
“It’s been 4.5 years and over 90 cars since CRRC started producing MBTA vehicles out of Springfield,” said Rick Staples, MBTA technical project manager, in a letter to Michael Wilson, CRRC MA production manager.
“It is clear that the condition of these cars is unacceptable for inspection request, yet CRRC requested the inspection. Why does this type of process failure continue to happen?”
Jacob Finch, a mechanical engineer who is working as an integrated member of the MBTA project team for this contract, per his LinkedIn page, wrote in a separate June 7 email that the two-car train set, married pair 47, had “quite a few issues that we should not be finding on final inspections.”
The unfinished paint jobs should have been caught from a production checklist employees are presumably using, Finch said, and the multiple connectors that were hanging indicated that “clearly nobody looked at that, or somebody did unauthorized work.”
The condition of this so-called married pair had been used as a benchmark of sorts for the MBTA, in terms of whether CRRC production is “getting the cars to acceptable condition prior to final inspection,” Finch wrote.
“By my analysis, MP49 was the worst condition car since MP27 (10-plus married pairs ago, February 2022), and MP47 is on track to be worse than MP49,” Finch wrote. “I would say CRRC is failing this test.”
Staples, in his letter, tasked CRRC with providing an explanation as to why it thought these particular train cars were ready for inspection, information on who checked the condition of the cars prior to the inspection request, and what corrective action will be taken to “ensure this clear failure in CRRC’s quality process does not continue.”
A spokesperson for CRRC MA did not respond to a request for comment.
The two letters are the latest example of the T’s dissatisfaction with its Chinese contractor, the low bidder in what eventually became a roughly $870.5 million agreement for 152 new Orange Line cars and 252 Red Line cars. The initial contract, awarded in 2014, was for $565.18 million.
“The emails demonstrate the MBTA’s ongoing commitment to hold the contractor accountable for the quality of its work,” T spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said. “The concerns raised in the emails were addressed before the cars were shipped.
“These cars are highly complex pieces of equipment, and the MBTA is paying close attention to every detail and communicating with the contractor that we will not accept cars that do not meet the highest standards in quality and performance.”
To date, 90 new Orange Line cars and 12 Red Line cars have been delivered. However, only 88 new Orange cars have been “conditionally accepted,” Pesaturo said.
Delivery of new cars was halted in July 2022 for seven months to address manufacturing-related issues identified by the MBTA, and only just resumed this past February.
New cars that have been delivered have been taken out of service several times, including for a battery explosion and braking and wiring failures.
At a virtual community meeting on summer service changes Monday night, MBTA officials said the availability of new cars has impacted subway frequency on the Orange Line, where old cars have all been replaced.
Melissa Dullea, senior director of service planning, said service on the Orange Line has been “dominated by vehicle availability.” This differs from the other subway lines like the Red, which is most impacted by speed restrictions, she said.
Improved Orange Line frequency this summer will depend on the delivery of new train cars, Dullea said. The tentative plan is to increase the number of daily trains from 10 to 11 this summer, and possibly to 12 in the fall, she said.
“We’re still waiting to hear that, so that’s not confirmed,” Dullea said.
A published summer schedule for the Orange Line, however, shows decreased weekday frequency, with trains arriving every 10-12 minutes starting July 2. Today, peak trains are scheduled to arrive every 7-10 minutes and off-peak trains are supposed to come every 8-12 minutes.