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A timeline of delays plaguing the rollout of new MBTA Red and Orange Line train cars

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is in the process of replacing its aging fleet of Red and Orange Line cars with new models.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The ongoing investigation into the death of 39-year-old Robinson Lalin, who was trapped Sunday in the door of a Red Line car, comes as the MBTA is still waiting for scores of new Red and Orange Line train cars from a Chinese company contracted in 2014 to make them.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is in the process of replacing its aging fleet of Red and Orange Line cars with new models, but the rollout has been repeatedly delayed. The T awarded the contract to the Chinese-owned CRRC to build 252 Red Line cars and 152 Orange Line cars in Springfield by 2024 and 2022, respectively.

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The train car involved in Lalin’s death was put into service in 1969 or 1970, according to the MBTA. Lalin was killed when he became trapped in the door of a Red Line train as it pulled away from a platform in South Boston early Sunday morning. Officials have said he was dragged a short distance by an inbound train at the Broadway T stop.

Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said Tuesday via e-mail that officials are working to get the new train cars on the tracks.

“The pandemic and supply chain issues have presented multiple challenges, but the MBTA is working closely with its car builder to stabilize the production schedule and step up the pace of delivery,” Pesaturo said.

To date, he continued, 70 new Orange Line cars and 10 new Red Line cars have been delivered, with two more coming before the end of the month.

But the path to get the new cars has been fraught with issues. Here is a brief timeline:

October 2014: The board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation voted unanimously to approve a $566.6 million contract for CNR MA Corp., a CRRC subsidiary, to build 284 of the cars. Competitors who lost out to CNR in that bidding process at the time unsuccessfully urged the board to delay the vote and get a “best and final offer” from the interested contractors. They pointed out CNR’s inexperience in the US market and criticized the bidding process, saying it was not transparent.

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October 2017: Governor Charlie Baker toured CNR MA Corp.’s plant in Springfield where the trains would be built with an initial goal of completing the replacement and expansion of the entire Orange Line fleet in mid-2022, and the Red Line in fall 2023. Production began the following year.

November 2019: Two full train sets had to be taken out of service to diagnose a loud rubbing noise near the carriages. Moreover, there was a problem with the first set of replacement parts that further set back the fix, an “unacceptable” development that fuming Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials said was an “example of CRRC’s poor-quality management.”

January 2020: MBTA officials were so disappointed with the work that, in January 2020, they said “their confidence in CRRC has been reduced due to past failures,” according to the minutes of meetings between officials and the contractor.

Early 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic hit, disrupting CRRC’s supply chain and shuttering the Springfield plant for several weeks.

October 2020: The issues culminated with the announcement by the MBTA in October 2020 that the nearly $1 billion contract to produce some 404 cars for Greater Boston’s two busiest subway lines would be a year late. The last set of trains will now not arrive until late 2024 — a full decade after the company, CRRC, was chosen for the project.

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Late October 2020: The Globe reported that public records showed the factory in Springfield was beset by missteps and poor oversight.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.