|An outbound commuter rail on the Lowell MBTA line barrelled down snowy tracks on a recent morning where bitter cold was blamed for mechanical failures that caused delays on commuter trains, subways, and some Boston school buses. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)|
MBTA threatens to cancel $190m deal for rail cars
Cites delays, errors in building rail cars; could look to replace South Korean firm
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T management glossed over Hyundai Rotem’s lack of US experience and encouraged the MBTA board to approve the contract quickly, given the needs of the T’s aging fleet, according to meeting minutes and materials prepared for the board.
Some members who approved the deal were livid when they later learned that a former high-ranking Boston and Philadelphia transit executive whose son remained a T manager had been hired to help Hyundai Rotem win the Pennsylvania contract. But the T said the father and son were not involved in the Boston bidding and that the son also informed the state Ethics Commission that he was recusing himself.
Though it soon became clear internally that Hyundai Rotem was falling far behind, MBTA and Department of Transportation management did not tell the board overseeing the T until a year ago — when they asked the board to approve $4 million more on top of $10 million already committed to an engineering firm hired to provide expertise and help the T ride herd on the increasingly complicated order.
Angry board members summoned Hyundai Rotem’s chief executive, M.H. Lee, to appear before them last June. He apologized for what he deemed a corporate embarrassment and said Hyundai Rotem would redouble its efforts, promising to make up lost time without compromising quality.
The T indicated in September and November that things seemed to be improving, but Lee died unexpectedly in mid-November. The letter from Davis suggests Hyundai Rotem once more put the T on the back burner after that.
Jim LaRusch, chief counsel and a vice president for the American Public Transportation Association, could not comment on the MBTA contract but acknowledged that equipment purchases are expensive, time-consuming, and potentially fraught with pitfalls.
They start with thousand-page technical specifications that incorporate federal standards and guidelines for safety and accessibility, as well as the unique needs of that transit agency, with its array of existing locomotives and coaches and varying types of stations. Bidders must be evaluated on price and ability. “Then the fun starts,” he said, meaning years of back and forth over development, production, and testing.
“It’s a pretty complex process,” LaRusch said. “It’s not like buying a Toyota.”
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com.