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MBTA’s choice of Chinese firm for rail car contract criticized

Patrick defends bid

Governor Deval Patrick on Tuesday praised the MBTA’s recommendation of a China-controlled rail manufacturer for a contract replacing Red and Orange line cars as a major economic opportunity for the region that will bring a 150,000-square-foot assembly plant and more than 250 jobs to Springfield.

“It will open up opportunities for the residents of the Pioneer Valley by creating quality construction and manufacturing jobs that will propel growth in the region for years to come,” Patrick said in a statement.

But the transit agency is already facing questions about the selection of a company affiliated with a repressive government and one that will manufacture some parts outside of the United States.

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Scott N. Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing was quick to criticize the move for supporting the state-owned enterprise.

Paul on Tuesday wrote a letter to Patrick saying the “Chinese government’s economic activity distorts the marketplace and crowds out competitive private-sector firms.”

But Lydia M. Rivera, a spokeswoman for the company, CNR MA, addressed concerns by pointing out only about 10 percent of the manufacturing work will be done in the company’s Chinese factory and saying the company is dedicated to fair treatment of its workers.

“I think what it’s going to do for Springfield is going to be amazing as far as job development,” she said.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors will vote on the recommendation Wednesday afternoon.

Of the six companies that bid — all international — CNR and another China-controlled company were the only ones that do not have a prior relationship with the T or US facilities.

In its staff summary, MBTA officials said several conditions had been set to mitigate the risk of working with a company that lacks experience in the United States, including a performance guarantee clause and a “cultural liaison” to be present at all meetings to act as a technical interpreter.

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Beverly Scott, the general manager of the T, said the move marks an important step in improving the daily commute of hundreds of thousands of customers.

“By replacing the aging fleets of Red and Orange Line cars, we will be able to reduce travel and wait times, increase capacity, and improve accessibility, security. and the overall experience for our customers,” she said in a statement.

The agency plans to purchase 152 new Orange Line vehicles. The 74 new Red Line vehicles will replace one batch of the fleet, and the contract could also include an additional 58 Red Line cars.

Officials say the new passenger cars will be able to accommodate more commuters and include wider doors, sustainable HVAC systems, LED lighting, and new safety and security features.

Most Orange Line cars will be rolled out between the winter of 2018 and the winter of 2021, while most Red Line cars will be delivered between fall 2019 and spring 2021.

CNR MA beat out several foreign heavy rail companies with previous experience with the MBTA: Bombardier of Canada; Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles of Spain; CSR Qingdao Sifang of China; Hyundai Rotem of South Korea; and Kawasaki Rail Car of Japan.

Besides the Chinese companies, every other firm that submitted a bid had previous experience building for the MBTA. There are currently no US-owned heavy rail manufacturers that could have taken on the project, but several foreign companies own factories in the United States.

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The deal to upgrade the Red Line’s 45-year-old cars and the Orange Line’s 33-year-old cars. has been long-awaited.

The state Transportation Department’s capital investment plan included $1.5 billion to fund the replacement of the cars, as well as improvements to the tracks, signals, and systems.

It was not immediately clear why the contract under discussion totals just $566.6 million or why the staffing summary recommends a total project budget of just $800 million.

In crafting the deal, local officials made a point to ensure that local jobs were a component.

The company responded by announcing plans earlier this year to use a 40-acre site in Springfield. According to its plan, CNR MA wants to use $60 million of its own to help build the facility.

But those assurances did not satisfy Thomas Cushman, a Wellesley College professor who founded an academic journal on human rights. Cushman said the government should be transparent about the company’s ties to a repressive Chinese government.

“As a citizen, I don’t want one dime of my money going to the Chinese communist party for symbolic reasons,” he said. “This is a regime that intensifies repression against professors and dissidents.”

On Tuesday, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo also released a statement via e-mail: “The MBTA’s investigation revealed no record of violations of human rights against workers by China CNR Corporation Limited, a publicly traded company (in Hong Kong).”

Rivera also noted the company’s record free of human rights violations. She added, “We’re dedicated and committed to treating our workers fairly.”

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The company’s facility in Changchun, China, is one of the largest transit vehicle facilities in the world, and the company has already worked with more than a dozen countries, such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, New Zealand, Australia, and Saudi Arabia.

The company is hoping to use the plant as its North American headquarters, and Rivera said the company is looking forward to seeking other opportunities beyond the MBTA’s project.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com.