MBTA threatens commuter-rail coach maker over crappy cars

The Globe reports that with 75 commuter-rail coaches already more than two years late, the MBTA is pissed off enough about shoddy construction by the Korean company it hired to build them to think about looking for a new builder.

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The T always does this

Purchasing trains and coaches for a rail system is complicated enough, but the T always seems to go with these upstart companies that come in with a low bid, and it is years and millions of dollars in extra modifications to make them work.

Really, I'm trying to contain

Really, I'm trying to contain my shock and surprise. A low-ball bid from a company that had never built a US-spec railcar? This had bad deal written all over it from the very beginning, so of course the T went all-in.

By the way, good Captcha phrase on this one: Hertba Ferguson. That could definitely be somebody's name.

MBTA's Korean Shoddy Coaches

I've been taking the Fitchburg train lately and I've seen them sitting in the Charlestown yard. Someone here mentioned it, but the sheet metal on the entire line of them is dented and warped to hell. I'm scared to think of the noncostmetic issues, if they can't even deliver them looking new.

Looks like they've been through a hail storm.

IMAGE(http://images.universalhub.com/files/images/2011/newcoaches.jpg)
http://www.universalhub.com/2012/mbta-finally-gets...

As said above, this is the problem with lowest bid contracts. You end up with shoddy, cheap work that only needs to be repaired and costs the taxpayer more in the long run. But some politician or a group of budget hawks can speak up their own credentials on "Savings" in the short run, before they skip town on to the next thing.

Hyundai Rotem sought the MBTA contract soon after it won the Philadelphia deal, bidding nearly 20 percent below industry veteran Kawasaki on price

You get what you pay for

public bids

Shouldn't this company be paying a fine for not having these trains in on time? I know with certain road projects, companies can get bonuses or fines for finishing the work early or late. I wonder if this is the same for this type of bid. I would assume it could be.

It is a big WTF if I ever saw one though.

Public Contracts

Although one would have to look at the contracts to know for sure, all public contracts generally have a termination for default clause in them which, among other things, allows the purchaser to terminate the contractor when they don't perform, and to charge them for the cost of reprocuring the items from another source. If these were purchased with federal money (and probably even if they weren't) there is a good argument that those termination provisions apply regardless of whether they were written into the contract because they apply to all federal contracts. The T's problem here is either ignorance of their rights under the contract, lack of political will or stomach to fight the contractor, or, sadly, pure incompetence or appathy on the part of the procurement staff and leadership at the T. If this were a federal procurement, the T would have its coaches by now and the contractor would be fighting a lawsuit for the overage.

Were these coaches built custom or off the shelf products?

Serious question here.

There are lots of commuter rail systems in the U.S. that have double-decker coaches. The Long Island Railroad comes to mind.

Did the T just take the specs from those systems to their manufacturers and say "how much to make some of these for us?" If not, why not? Is there something special about our commuter rail tracks, stations, etc. that would have prevented them from doing that?

The specs were just an update

The specs were just an update of the ones the MBTA has used for double-deck cars since they purchased their first ones from Kawasaki in 1990. The MBTA was actually the first east coast commuter rail operator to get double-deck cars (before New Jersey Transit, Long Island, Maryland, or Virginia). In fact, most of those other east coast system cars are based on the orignal MBTA design. Compared to midwest and west coast commuter rail systems, east coast systems have tighter clearences and they need a design capable of working with both low and high platforms. The double-deck designs used by midwest and west coast system are taller and are only designed for low-platform boarding.

As mentioned in the article, Rotem quoted a price that was much lower than the one from Kawasaki (or Bombardier). When a transit agency uses federal money, they can't automatically give the order to their preferred builder, they can either go straight low-bid or have a negotiated procurement that considers multiple factors. But even in a negotiated procurement, a low-ball price will still give the total score edge to the lowest cost contractor.

No-win

The T is also in a no-win situation. If they pick the high bidder, they're accused of making money. If they pick the low bidder (as they're often forced to) you run the risks of situations like this.

100% correct

Buying something cheap but poorly made is more expensive in the long run, because you have to repair or replace it frequently. The longer you plan on keeping something, the more important it becomes to pay for quality.

Few things in our society are kept as long as trains, so the "splurge" on quality is so much more worthwhile than, say, on clothing, electronics, or even personal cars. It's easy to forget that.