Top bid to build new MBTA subway cars is from China

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A railcar and locomotive manufacturer controlled by China’s government has emerged as the top bidder for a $566.6 million contract to supply the MBTA with new cars for the Red and Orange lines.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the contract for CNR MA Corporation, which is a venture of China CNR Corporation Limited and CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., according to the board’s agenda.

[by Nicole Dungca | October 21, 2014 | The Boston Globe

The contract for 284 subway cars will include the construction of an assembly plant in Springfield, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The MBTA said last year it expected to begin delivering Orange Line cars in the winter of 2018, and the Red Line cars in the fall of 2019.

Governor Deval Patrick is scheduled to make an announcement about the MBTA’s new cars Tuesday in Springfield, according to his public schedule; he could not be reached for comment Monday night.

The possible deal comes amid concerns about the company’s links to the Chinese government, which has been criticized for human rights abuses. China CNR is a state-owned entity in China.

State Representative Byron Rushing, who represents the South End, said he asked state transportation officials on Monday what steps had been taken to vet the Chinese company, but that he had not yet received a response.

“We should vet any company we are doing business with from around the world on their human rights record,” Rushing said in an interview. “And this is China. There are a lot of people who have questioned the human rights record of the Chinese.”

Rushing said there is precedent for the state to refuse to do business with countries that have troubling records on human rights, including South Africa in the apartheid era and, more recently, Myanmar.

But Patrick, in remarks to reporters outside an event in Roxbury Monday, insisted that the bidders on the Red and Orange line contract have been “thoroughly vetted,” and that the process had been “transparent and rigorous and competitive.”

Patrick said he had met with representatives of the contractor in Hong Kong. Patrick noted that, under the terms of any contract, the new coaches would not be assembled in China.

“A condition of the deal is that the coaches be assembled right here in Massachusetts,” Patrick said.

Charlie Baker, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, said he was glad the contract for the new subway cars would require assembly to take place in Massachusetts.

If elected, Baker said he would make sure Massachusetts businesses that seek state contracts for such work get credit for employing people in the Commonwealth.

The Democratic candidate, Attorney General Martha Coakley, could not be reached for comment Monday night.

At Wednesday’s MassDOT board meeting, the seven-member panel is scheduled to discuss and either approve or deny the contract with CNR, according to the publicly available agenda posted on the agency’s website.

MBTA and Department of Transportation officials would not comment Monday night on the contract or the process.

Patrick first pledged to replace many of the aging cars in the Red and Orange line fleets a year ago, after the Legislature passed a law that raised taxes to provide $800 million annually to the state’s transportation systems.

Last year, the MBTA issued requests for proposals to replace the Red Line’s 45-year-old cars and the Orange Line’s 33-year-old cars, aging equipment that has caused delays and required constant upkeep for years.

In its request, the agency asked for at least 226 cars, including 152 to replace the entire Orange Line fleet. The request also included 74 Red Line cars, which is about one-third of the fleet.

MBTA officials did not release the names of the other bidders, citing the confidentiality of the bidding process.

But earlier this spring, CNR Changchun Railway announced its intentions to assemble the cars in Springfield if awarded the deal, according to local media reports.

Hyundai Rotem, the South Korean company that in 2008 won a $190 million contract to supply the T with 75 new commuter rail cars, also identified itself as a bidder on the Red and Orange line contract, by announcing its own proposal to build a plant in Springfield, which was also reported by the local media.

Hyundai Rotem has been criticized for delivering the commuter rail cars behind schedule and later, for claims that the delivered trains were faulty and required fixes.

Harry King, a spokesman for Hyundai Rotem, said in a statement the company was unaware the T had selected a winning bidder for the Red and Orange line trains.

“This is the first we have heard that a decision would be announced so soon,” King said in the statement.

Michael Felton, the Springfield City Council president who sponsored a resolution to support CNR’s proposed facility in Springfield, said the granting of the accord would be welcome news for the region because of the jobs it would create.

He said he had not been told about the impending vote. “It’s a tremendous economic development opportunity and one of the greatest ones that our region has seen in recent memory,” he said.

Joshua Miller and Sean P. Murphy of the Globe staff contributed to this report. 

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