- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - The control board overseeing the Boston-area transit system approved a plan Monday to spend up to $280 million to replace the entire existing fleet of Red Line vehicles by the middle of the next decade.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority originally had planned to replace only the oldest cars on the line - some of which date back to 1969 - while refurbishing relatively newer vehicles that went into service in 1993-1994.

Instead, the new plan calls for adding at least 120 new cars, and perhaps as many as 134, that would be assembled by the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation, the world’s largest railcar maker, at its North American plant in Springfield, Massachusetts. The same Chinese-owned company already is under a $566 million contract from 2014 to build 132 Red Line trains and 152 Orange Line vehicles for the state.

MBTA officials said the previously ordered Red Line vehicles are expected to go into service between 2019 and 2022, and the newer fleet is expected to be on the tracks by 2025.

Jeffrey Gonneville, chief operating officer for the T, said the decision to buy all new cars rather than replace some and refurbish others followed a lengthy engineering review and would result in a 50 percent increase in capacity for one of the region’s busiest rapid transit line. The move would cut waiting times for riders at the 22 Red Line stations and provide a single, standardized fleet that could be easily adapted to future technological changes, he said.

The move also made sense financially, officials claimed, because it would actually cost $310,000 less to build a new car than to overhaul one that already has been in service for more than 20 years.

“To look at it from a business standpoint, clearly long term there is huge benefit to building brand new vehicles and getting out of this overhaul program,” said Brian Shortsleeve, the system’s chief administrator and acting general manager.

Yet since the old trains still must hobble through until all the new ones are delivered, the MBTA plans to put about $33 million of work into the current vehicles to keep them operating for the next several years.

Stephanie Pollack, the state’s transportation secretary, noted that riders frequently have to deal with delays resulting from breakdowns in the aging fleet.

“It’s not fair to our riders to just say for the next six or seven years you’re just going to take your chances with cars breaking,” she said.

In agreeing to buy the additional vehicles from the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation, the MBTA is bypassing the normal requirement that all major contracts go through a competitive bidding process. But officials argued that in this case, choosing the same manufacturer is the only practical way to achieve the goal of a standardized fleet.


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