WHEN, IN early 2008, the MBTA decided to spend $190 million on an untested Korean firm to build 75 desperately needed commuter-rail cars, there were more red flags than at a May Day parade at the Kremlin, circa 1982.
The firm, Hyundai Rotem, had yet to open a US plant, a federal requirement for the contract. It hadn’t navigated the complicated US safety requirements that foiled many other overseas firms seeking to enter the American market. Moreover, the T had a nagging history of choosing untested manufacturers for its equipment, with long delays having plagued its procurement of new Green Line cars. In this case, on-time performance of the contract was especially important, since aging commuter trains were chewing up maintenance resources and fraying the nerves of commuters with service delays.