The outdated Red and Orange line fleets won’t be fully replaced until 2024, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials said Monday, acknowledging the timetable for the high-profile project has slipped by at least a year.
The new Orange Line cars will now be fully in place by summer 2023, 15 months later than initially expected, MBTA deputy general manager Jeff Gonneville said. The Red Line cars will not be fully online until winter 2024, a year behind schedule.
The delay may come as little surprise to MBTA riders who have witnessed the new fleet’s slow introduction. Six years after the agency hired the Chinese rail manufacturer CRRC to build a factory in Springfield and assemble more than 400 subway cars, only three new Orange Line trains have entered service, the first more than a year ago. No Red Line trains have come online.
Progress has been slowed by production issues at the Springfield factory, where car shells shipped from China are outfitted with wires, controls, wheels, and other equipment, Gonneville said. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the factory struggled to kick into high gear because of inadequate manufacturing workflows, employee training and retention issues, and difficulty procuring materials, he said.
But Gonneville said the issues were compounded by COVID-19, with the factory in China shuttered earlier this year and the Springfield facility closed for much of the spring.
The new six-car Orange Line trains have also run into issues on the rails, with two having to be pulled from service last fall and winter, most recently to fix a part that connects the body of the cars with the carriage underneath.
Throughout the delays and problems, the MBTA said the project would remain on schedule, even if individual trains were behind. During the pandemic, officials acknowledged the project would be delayed but did not offer a new timeline until Monday.
Gonneville said there has been “stabilization" of production after the T embedded more workers in the Springfield factory and held more regular meetings with CRRC. He said the contract penalizes CRRC $500 a day per car, for each delay that can be attributed to the company.
“Once those delays are fully determined, we will move forward and assess those,” he said.
CRRC was chosen late in the administration of Governor Deval Patrick to replace the entire Orange Line fleet and much of the Red Line. Under Governor Charlie Baker, the MBTA expanded the order to the rest of the Red Line, and Baker has often appeared at events in Springfield and on the transit system to tout the project.
Seeking to establish a North American presence, CRRC was the project’s low bidder. It has since won contracts with transit systems in other major cities, including Los Angeles and Philadelphia, but Congress has put limitations on its future work, citing national security concerns.
While the project has been celebrated as a statewide economic boon because it included the Springfield factory, some transit advocates in Boston have wondered whether that requirement forced the project to take longer than it might have otherwise.
The order includes more Orange and Red line cars than the current fleets have, allowing the T to eventually expand service. Even with the delays, the two lines will have enough new trains to match current service levels about a year before the project is finished, according to the MBTA.
And when might that first new Red Line train, previously pegged for last spring, finally enter service? Gonneville said to expect it by the end of the year.