Keolis blames failing diesel turbochargers, coach wheel issues for commuter-rail cancellations, delays, overcrowding

Overcrowded Lowell Line train

Smushed Lowell Line train due to earlier cancellation this AM. Photo by Jeff Durney.

A crescendo of complaints by commuter-rail riders about cancellations, delays and overcrowded trains reached a new peak this morning as commuters into both North and South stations vented their frustration online.

They joined Lily Goldman, a Rockport Line rider who's been complaining for months now about ghost and late trains on her route:

In e-mail to disgruntled Stoughton Line rider Caitlin Kent last week, Keolis, the company that runs commuter rail for the T, blamed "a higher than expected failure rate" with turbochargers on the new locomotives for cancellations.

Keolis added that, unfortunately, the wheels on a number of coaches needed repairs at once, and just as one of the company's two "wheel truing" devices had to be taken out of service fore repairs - leading to shortened trains as coaches were taken out of service. Keolis said it had turned to Amtrak for help in truing more wheels and managed to get its own machine up and running sooner than planned.

But it wasn't soon enough for ThatsRich , who reported the 6:20 a.m. train he normally rides in from Stoughton was canceled this morning for the fifth time in the past two weeks.

When Stacy B complained her train has had to make unscheduled stops at Canton Junction and Hyde Park five out of the last nine days, Kevin Kosh replied:

At least you had your train. They did that b/c 5 out of last 9 they canceled mine outright. And most of those I was already at station.

Ad:

Topics: 

Free tagging: 

Comments

But we're a world-class city,

By on

But we're a world-class city, and therefore definitely invest enough in our train and subway systems to keep up with population growth and demand!

I don't know why people keep complaining.

/s

up
Voting is closed. 4

Boston

By on

is only world class if you're rich.

up
Voting is closed. 3

Hate to nitpick

By on

The commuter rail isn't exactly for the poor. Heck, listen to those from Roslindale and West Roxbury gripe about the cost of a monthly pass, then ponder that they are only in zone 1 ($200.25/month), and the system goes up to zone 10 ($398.25/month).

And I don't want to come across as saying commuter rail riders are rich, but someone on average wages could not afford that, and in Boston I will call the trip a luxury.

up
Voting is closed. 1

Why is this on Keolis?

By on

Why isn't this actually the fault of engine supplier (GE and some ID company)? Keolis has (many) problems, but if they have defective new equipment, that doesn't seem like they are the prime culprit here.

up
Voting is closed. 2

Look Up the Labor Term - Slowdown

Just a hunch on my part.

I know Keolis has nothing to do with MBTA Bus Repairs, but there seems to be an awful lot of stories about bus repair privatization (read: union busting) floating around the past few days.

Something tells me these trains will run just fine next week.

up
Voting is closed. 2

They're not even the ones

They're not even the ones procuring the equipment, they can't be blamed for bad buying.

They can be blamed for bad communication though.

up
Voting is closed. 2

That's what I mean

By on

It feels like we were sold some crap train engines and are now howling at the people we've paid to operate them. Companies never seem to be held accountable for crap product on state contracts here.

up
Voting is closed. 4

Sounds more like inadequate testing of the

By on

prototype units before accepting delivery of the locomotives en-masse (why does that sound so familiar - remember the Boeing LRV and Breda Type 8 "acceptance" testing). Not sure how you can blame that on the vendor.

up
Voting is closed. 2

How can you say that?

By on

Seems equally likely that the MBTA tested an engine, it was fine and the general production run sucked.

Why do you think this isn't the vendors fault? They made the damn engines, right?

up
Voting is closed. 1

Seriously?

By on

Do you work for the vendor or something?

up
Voting is closed. 2

No, I don't work for the vendor

By on

However, I've lived here long enough to realize that the MBTA has a habit of routinely rushing the testing of new equipment before putting it into service, and then acting all surprised when faults that would have been revealed through a more extensive testing process come to light. Add to this the MBTA's other habit of retiring existing equipment en-masse BEFORE the new equipment has been delivered AND fully vetted in service, and it's no wonder that the commuter rail is in the dire shape it's in.

Yes, is part of this on the vendor - absolutely. But most of it is on the MBTA.

up
Voting is closed. 2

I don't see the 'most' part based on what is known

By on

From the Globe article:

'As soon as the locomotives were delivered, they were sidelined for months because of faulty bearings. MBTA officials say the new locomotives are more reliable than the older ones in its fleet, but by February 2016, nearly every locomotive had been delayed because of mechanical failures, operator errors, or other issues.

In addition, eight locomotives have experienced failures with turbochargers, which blow fresh air into the engines. The manufacturer has agreed to replace the part across the fleet. The manufacturer is already replacing four other pieces of equipment, including software for the General Electric engine and battery chargers.

In 2016, the MBTA appeared to acknowledge the issues with the new locomotives when its board approved an additional $3.7 million for extra maintenance costs. That was part of a deal that gave $66 million more to the company over the life of the contract.'

Turbocharger - vendor
software - vendor
faulty bearings - vendor

Now 'operator error' is also cited and of course the point about not having the old engines fixed as back up stands but it still seems like you are giving GE and their partner a pass vs. the majority of the blame here. Sure the MBTA maintenance is fraught with issues but then brand new multi-million dollar engines shouldn't need that much maintenance if they were made right.

No?

up
Voting is closed. 5

Thorough Testing Of Custom Designed Subway Trains Is Essential

By on

But what is so unique about the 's Commuter Rail system that would require extensive on-site testing of locomotive bearings?

Are any of these failures the result of something special the ordered, that the vendor(s) had never built before?

up
Voting is closed. 4

Yes and no. Most of the GE

By on

Yes and no. Most of the GE guts of an HSP-46 are tried-and-true. The main engine is a GE "GEVO", the #1 selling freight engine in the U.S. The GE traction motors that drive the wheels and the alternators that provide electricity to the coaches are same exact ones used in Amtrak's ubiquitous GE Genesis diesels that take a beating and keep on kicking.

But the packaging is all-new, and that's where a whole bunch of proven components turn into sum less than parts. MPI tried to design something that had never been packaged together before, on T specs that called for something never packaged together before, and they choked on the enormity of the task. These are mostly systems integration issues, as modern locos are so computer-heavy they're almost more software than hardware. The HSP's wretched reliability is largely related to software faults with the control systems shutting things down and the shop not being able to replicate the errors because all the 1's and 0's had crap quality control. That's why the MPI techs always have to be here.

Unfortunately if it were just bugs, they'd have stamped most of them out by now. Amtrak's new Sprinter electrics on the Northeast Corridor were buggy as hell upon debut, but came around and are now performing magnificiently well. The continued failures with the HSP's likely mean they didn't do enough homework making sure their component selection pu-pu platter meshed well enough, and thus individually battle-tested components are in conflict in a bad package. It's shades of the T's buy 20 years ago of the GP40MC locos. They took 25 freight units with goddamn legendary reliability and rebuilt them with fancypants computer controls it was never designed for, then ruined their reliability because the computer packaging never worked right. Ironically, Amtrak (then the contracted operator like Keolis is now) warned them it wouldn't work...then got blamed by the state same as Keolis is when lo-and-behold it didn't work.

The sad thing is that MPI's MPXpress locos, which the T has 2 of with the MP36PH-3C (the ones that have LED number boards on the nose), has been North America's best-selling passenger diesel of the last 15 years. MPI designed it as a modern homage to the F40PH (i.e. the other half of the T fleet), and it "Just Worked". The T evaluated buying another 40 MP36's, but pooh-poohed their very ordinariness. Just as 20 years ago they evaluated buying a bunch of new off-shelf GE Genesis units (#2 passenger best-seller of last 2 decades) and pooh-poohed that in favor of the GP40MC "Frankengeeps" disaster (to Amtrak's chagrin). Now MPI has expended so much sunk cost and energy trying to salvage the HSP they've had their market lead stolen by Siemens. Good jerbs all around, guys!

Best thing we can hope for now is that the FCMB stops dicking around with band-aids and blame games and bonds out for 50 new Siemens Chargers to replace the fast-failing F40PH-2C mainstays and the "Frankengeeps". Charger is the new Amtrak diesel based on the Sprinter electrics that's turning heads for being so far ahead of schedule with testing. Amtrak's going to soon plunk down for another 150 units, bringing the total size of its order to >200. Many commuter rail agencies are expected to follow. Stick with the crowd and order what Captain Obvious is ordering, make lemonade out of lemons best they can with the HSP's acknowledging that they're one-and-done unicorns to be retired in 20 years instead of rebuilt, and get on with other priorities like running the trains instead of grandstanding about spilt milk, Keolis, and outsourced jobs.

up
Voting is closed. 1

Actually, that is not a bad idea.

By on

They have the color codes for winter storms so I think they should have color codes for everyday service. How about:

Blue: Trains 5-10 minutes late.
Orange: Trains 15-30 minutes late.
Purple: Better seek alternative transportation.
Black: Trains more or less on time but shorter trains in operation. Be prepared to stand and be crushed.
Yellow: Trains might be on time but it is a crap shoot.
Brown: No one knows where the train is. Stop calling us.
Green: Trains are running but wheels might fall off. Have alternative
transportation as a backup.
Tan: Train has grumpy conductor. Do not approach to ask a question.
Gray: Trains on time but doors do not open. You are on your own.
Red: Train may or may not be on time but we can't guarantee an
engineer. Call Uber.
White: Trains running with no conductors. Party in car three.

up
Voting is closed. 5

We spent all the maintenance

By on

We spent all the maintenance money on cold-proofing the trains because it gets cold here, darnit! How could you expect us to know it gets wet here, too?!

Next thing you know, you'll be telling us you want the trains to work in HOT weather, too!

up
Voting is closed. 4

Since Day One

By on

The repairs are on Keolis to do, or figure out since they are under contract to the MBTA to do just that.

The locomotives were built by Motive Power Industries of Idaho. The prime movers (actual diesel engines) are built by GE.

For what ist worth, very early on in the HSP46 life, when they first arrived here, I opted to take a cell video of one as it left the station I just got off at. As it rev'd up it started to belch dark diesel exhaust and chug like an old RS-2. If you don't know what that is, it's a very old diesel locomotive from the 1950s and 60s. They chugged.

I was shocked to see this since this was a unit that was just off the assembly line and had passed testing for service.

A lot of them are doing this ow and I am not surprised. I saw this flaw when they first arrived.

As I shut my cell recorder off I exclaimed, "Oh s%^&*-t, to which my bride said. "I take it something is wrong," knowing that I know a little bit about these things. "Yup, big time. Not supposed to chug and blow black smoke like that."

Keep in mind that the MBTA took these units for delivery "on paper" in order to be under the Tier-3 emissions standards. Had they waited for them to be delivered at a later date (after 1-1-15) the locomotives would be required to meet Tier-4 standards, and only a few models built since them can do this. This assured they could get in under that deadline.

So did MP hurry things? Maybe. A lot of the units were rolled out of the factory to local shops and were then committed to "warranty repair" to complete actual assembly.

Hopefully these will continue to be under warranty but they will have to cycle each locomotive out for major work to replace the turbo charger. For those that don't know what that is, it's somewhat like a carburetor, but that is an over simplification I assure you.

Can't wait to see what happens with the CRRC subway cars.

up
Voting is closed. 1

It's a relatively open secret …

By on

… that there is some active sabotage by Commuter Rail maintenance employees of equipment. I don't know why—it's probably some labor thing—but a few months ago they actually had a string of cars being sent off the property for maintenance under overnight guard by transit police to keep maintenance crews from damaging them. (Maybe the issue is this off-site maintenance, I'm not really sure.)

But the Keolis labor unions are a disaster. Say what you will about the Carmen (589) and the rapid transit maintenance unions (264): they don't damage equipment to cause shortages to get what they want. The Commuter Rail maintenance people have some issues in their ranks. There are stories that rather than cleaning coaches overnight at outlying storage yards they tend to show up and go to sleep until morning (easy with no oversight there) but that's small potatoes compared with actually damaging equipment to cause car shortages.

Again, I don't know why this happens, but it sounds like it happens. Might be something for the local press to look in to, but apparently no one will talk. Big surprise. Can't really fire everyone because you'd probably propagate some sort of strike and you also wouldn't have anyone to maintain the trains: there's a shortage of skilled labor and most of the workers are probably not culpable. And no one—at Keolis, the T or on Beacon Hill—has the cojones to take on the union and risk causing this, so we wind up with these rolling car shortages with no end in sight.

up
Voting is closed. 2

Less Than In The Know

By on

Less Than is speculating and doesn't have his facts straight. There has never been a history of Sabotage or vandalism by Commuter Rail Maintanence workers.
How about this timeline; Keolis is loosing Millions of dollars on a contract that they vastly underbid and was reportedly 17 Million last year....Next the MBTA in its ultimate wisdom announces YEARS in advance that the Commuter Rail contract will go back out for bid( which is a very expensive process)....Message sent...Keolis is getting kicked to the curb. How does react? .....They shuffle some senior managers bring in and start a war with unions....restructuring hours and job assignments in an effort to cut costs....They chose to start this in the dead of winter. When previous contractors Amtrak and MBTA operated in winter with every available employee ordered to work, repair and maintain storm damaged equipment, Keolis chose to embargo overtime....Employees performing inspections did not "sabotage", they shopped defective equipment which was not in compliance with FRA Regulations....Keolis cut back on employee hours and the shop tracks soon filled with coach and locomotives awaiting repair.
1) MBTA announces Unhappy with Keolis
2) Keolis loosing boatloads of money
3) Orders from France to save money because the shp I'd sinking
4) equipment defects beyond their control
5) pick a battle with unions over work rules and overtime ( because Keolis no longer has anything to loose)
6) riding public who pay big money for Commuter Rail service are the victims victims.
The MBTA ( Deval Davey Scott ) chose the wrong bidder.

up
Voting is closed. 0

This actually is not Keolis'

By on

This actually is not Keolis' fault.

The T owns and buys the equipment, Keolis maintains. The engines bought in 2015 and are the the result of the FIRST collaboration between MPI and GE. They have failed spectacularly. They are under warranty. That's great! Except they're shitty and keep breaking down.

It's the fans that cool the engines -- they keep shattering -- the turbocharge engines that keep going -- it's like an old car trying to get up a steep hill.

So take those out of service.

Now, you've old old, (or "Legacy" as the T calls them) engines that fail regularly, because they're 25-40 years old.

And coaches that need routine maintenance and new parts. You can't just buy parts; you source them. You have to search for vintage train parts in many cases.

AND often the FMCB has no clue who does what. I've heard repeatedly 'now WHO bought the engines?'

You did. The MBTA did.

I kind of feel badly for Keolis.

I do not work for the T or Keolis. I've been writing about this for a while.

up
Voting is closed. 1

I've mentioned this before

By on

But part of me can't help wondering if the outrageously large intake screens, which results in most of the equipment on the back of the locomotive being directly exposed to the elements, is contributing to these constant failures.

up
Voting is closed. 1

Turbochargers are attached to

Turbochargers are attached to the exhaust system of the trains (and the air intake system as well), pretty deep in the engine bays. They're not going to be exposed to the elements, and even if they were, they run at several hundred degrees (or hotter) most of the time, so water hitting them really isn't an issue. Under those large screens you mention are primarily radiators, which run BETTER when wet/damp, and love being cold (but not frozen)

up
Voting is closed. 4

The Mbta is forced by the

By on

The Mbta is forced by the government to buy the cheapest available part or contract possible for every purchase. So before you go blaming the mbta you should realize that they dont have the option of purchasing something better.

up
Voting is closed. 2

Not to mention

By on

the 4:48 to Reading and the 5:35 from Reading. As well as extra overcrowding and delays for people taking the 5:15 to Haverhill, which usually runs express Malden to Wakefield, but will now be making all stops today to accommodate people that would normally take the 4:48.

Update: Just got an alert cancelling the 6:05 to Reading (no surprise there), which also means the 6:55 from Reading will be cancelled as well.

up
Voting is closed. 4