State to award subway car contract to Chinese firm


BOSTON >> The state is set to award a $566 million contract to a Chinese government-owned rail company for new trains for Greater Boston's subway system, the "T."

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation's board of directors was to vote Wednesday afternoon to authorize a contract with Changchun Railway Vehicles to build 284 new subway cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The new cars are needed to replace the MBTA's 32-year-old Orange Line trains and the 44-year-old Red Line cars. The subway lines serve an average of 200,000 and 272,000 customers each weekday, respectively.

Changchun Railway Vehicles is a subsidiary of China CNR Corporation Limited, the Chinese government-owned enterprise that is the largest rail car maker in the world. The project would be its first in North America.

Changchun has pledged to build the subway cars at a new, $60 million factory in Springfield that would become its U.S. headquarters.

The 150,000-square-foot facility is expected to create over 250 new manufacturing and construction jobs for the region. Construction on the facility, proposed for the former Westinghouse Electric plant, is expected to begin in 2015. Springfield is western Massachusetts' economic and cultural hub, but it also has among the highest unemployment rates in the state.

The rail cars, the first of which will be delivered in 2018, are expected to help increase the subway system's capacity and decrease passenger wait times.

The state first sought bids on the contract in October 2013. It received six proposals by the May 2014 deadline. Changchun submitted the lowest bid.

Gov. Deval Patrick has said the company has been "thoroughly vetted" and that the bidding process was "rigorous and transparent." But some critics have voiced concern about the company in light of China's human rights record.



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