Engineers, Law Firms Digging Into MBTA Subway Car Deliveries

The Healey administration told the News Service that the state has hired Hatch (formerly LTK Engineering), and WilmerHale and Holland & Knight law firms as consultants for the working group.

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The recently-announced independent team working to get to the bottom of delays in construction and delivery for more than 300 new Red and Orange Line cars won't cost the state additional dollars, according to the governor's office, but will drain funds from a contractual contingency account.

Gov. Maura Healey announced in early February that the MBTA convened a team of 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. Plus, there have been recent reports of mismanagement and safety issues at the Springfield factory assembling the new cars.

The Healey administration told the News Service that the state has hired Hatch (formerly LTK Engineering), and WilmerHale and Holland & Knight law firms as consultants for the working group.

"Hatch's expertise will be valuable in understanding the barriers that have kept CRRC MA from reaching the car delivery levels. Wilmer Hale and H&K's expertise will be valuable in evaluating the contract, tariff and regulatory implications of potential changes to the contract that would enhance performance and increase the rate of delivery and ensure safety," Healey spokeswoman Karissa Hand said.

The cost of the consultants will be accommodated within the existing budget for the car replacements, Hand said. It will fall under a built-in contingency for unknown costs in the current CRRC contracts, and won't cause the state to exceed its current budget for the project. Hand did not say how much the actual price tag is expected to be for the group.

"I think it is important to get them online as soon as possible," said Keith Millhouse, a rail safety expert. "Having said that, you don't want to rush and put something on the tracks that is not ready, or hasn't been thoroughly vetted or tested."

Millhouse says it is hard work changing the culture within the MBTA.

"MBTA is always being reactive instead of proactive," he said. "In this particular case, with these rail cars, they should have been proactive in making sure that these rail cars were being assembled properly and in a timely manner so that they could be introduced into service."

Healey, who took over the governor's office from Republican Charlie Baker, said on WBUR's Radio Boston on Wednesday that she first heard about the car delivery delays "two weeks into our job."

"What I did immediately was to assemble a team, and they have already started work," she said on Wednesday. "In fact, our secretary of transportation was out there on the ground on Monday, and we are going to be all over this."

The consultants have been physically on the premises of the Springfield factory, Healey said, and will have a "constant presence."

"There are operational issues that need to be addressed and problems are being corrected as they occur," she said. "You have to be physically there."

"I think the MBTA has been on its heels for such a period of time they are having trouble just standing up straight, yet alone being proactive," Millhouse said.

The governor outlined some of the issues at the Springfield factory for WBUR listeners.

"Years ago, the state struck a deal with a Chinese company to manufacture, to fabricate, actually, because a lot of these cars are -- most of these cars, are sort of made in China and then they're shipped over for final fabrication. Well, it turns out that, you know, there were certain things missed in the process. And it looks like the facility itself didn't actually have the capability to fabricate it as quickly or in the way it needed to," Healey said.

"When I learned about this, my job was to get right on it, put a team together of technical experts, engineers, to figure out how to retool things at the facility and how to operationalize that so we can expedite the production and the delivery of these cars as quickly as possible," she said.

Copyright State House News Service
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