WBUR reports on the increasing delays in delivery of the new commuter-rail coaches the T agreed to buy from a Korean company that had never built trains for the US market before, already two years behind schedule.
Well, Hyundai-Rotem has and are building other US rail cars. They were awarded a contract to build bilevel coaches for SEPTA (PA) and that process continues.
The story behind the story is that the bilevel coaches for SEPTA are close in nature to what the MBTA wants so the company was already going to be tooled up and ready to produce in their US plant set up just for that purpose. Rotem must complete construction in the USA with US workers as a part of the "Buy America" act.
However the order for SEPTA has slipped on several occasions which is now forcing the slippage of the MBTA order which came in afterward.
Among the problems:
-- Lack of raw materials. They blamed a steel shortage a few years back for the SEPTA order on the US War effort in the middle east. The main bodies are crafted in So. Korea then shipped here by container ship for final assembly under the Buy America Act.
-- Design and compatibility issues. First production units sent to SEPTA for testing failed across the board on several fronts resulting in having to go back to the drawing board and rework the test units and rework the production units on the assembly line.
-- Labor issues. Press reported a major job action after a Korean national manager on site in PA yelled at a US worker for poor job performance. When the worker talked back the manager slapped him across the face. (The Korean national is still alive.) This resulted in union workers walking off the job. It was also reported in the press that Korean nationals in the plant had an air conditioned lunch room and catered meals while the union workers were left to box-lunch it and sweat in the summer heat.
While government and SEPTA officials in PA have managed to correct most of the problems, it is clear that there are both technical issues and cultural issues that are causing the problems. It is the big elephant in the room that none of the MBTA officials or Boston-area press have tackled as yet. Yet it has been widely reported in the PA-regional press for all to see and read - including the on-line medium.
The good news - as such - is if they iron out the bugs for the SEPTA units that should make the MBTA units that quicker to be accepted. Wishful thinking added of course.
It is true that there are no companies in the USA building commuter rail coaches. However final assembly must be done in the USA. The current Bombardier bilevel coaches in use at the MBTA were completed in a factory on a siding in Readville decades back adjacent to the old Westinghouse building. The siding is still there.
The same Build America Act also factored in the locomotive order in process. The original company granted the MBTA order was outside of the USA. Motive Power of IA also bid and lost. They sued under the Build america Act and won. Since they were the only USA builder capable of manufacture they got the order.