The board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a $566.6 million contract for CNR MA Corp., a subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned enterprise that is the world’s largest railcar manufacturer, to build Red and Orange line cars.
The contract to supply 284 cars to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority was approved despite concerns from human rights activists and complaints raised by some of the losing bidders.
Speaking separately, representatives from losing bidders Kawasaki Rail Car of Japan, Hyundai Rotem of South Korea, and Bombardier of Canada all 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.
A lawyer for Hyundai Rotem raised questions about Governor Deval Patrick’s meeting with CNR MA on a trade mission to China last year. Attorney Larry L. Varn told the board he worried that the visit could have violated the process.
“I think it certainly creates the appearance of impropriety,” he said.
Cyndi Roy-Gonzalez, a MassDOT spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that Patrick did not discuss the procurement process during the meeting with company officials, and said the governor did not play a role in deciding which company the MBTA chose.
Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, who was with the governor in China, said he thought it was a “totally appropriate” meeting. “The governor had talked often about wanting state contracts to have as much robust competition as possible,” Davey said.
Others remained concerned about the company’s links to China, frequently criticized for repressing dissidents and giving workers few rights. Robert A. Maginn, Jr. a former chairman of the state Republican party, told the MassDOT board he believes the governor would live to regret the decision if he seeks another office.
Chai Ling, a prodemocracy leader who participated in the Tiananmen Square protests and is married to Maginn, also asked board members to reconsider the deal.
Approving the contract would put a “stain on the record of the state that chose to be silent so tyranny of the Chinese government can continue,” she said.
In an interview after the vote, Davey said transportation officials did not hire the Chinese government, but a company partly owned by the Chinese government. CNR MA is a venture of China CNR Corp., which is owned by the People’s Republic of China and CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles Co.
“We’re not buying coaches from North Korea or Syria or Iraq, we’re buying from a trading partner of the United States that is now the second-largest economy on the planet,” Davey said.
Faced with questions about China’s record on human rights, Lydia M. Rivera, a spokeswoman for CNR MA, said, “What I’m aware of and what I need to be aware of is that CNR has no infractions against them in China,” Rivera said.
Xiwei Lu, president of CNR MA, said he was excited to take on the project, and touted plans for a facility in Springfield that is expected to create more than 250 manufacturing and construction jobs for locals.
“We will keep our promise and that’s a commitment for us,” he said.
CNR MA plans to spend $60 million to build a 150,000-square-foot facility on a 40-acre site in Springfield. Officials said most of the work on the cars will occur in the United States, with 60 percent of the parts from US manufacturers.
Delivery of Orange Line cars is scheduled to begin in 2018, with delivery of the Red Line cars starting in 2019. All of the new cars are to be in service by 2023.
Despite the concerns raised at the meeting, MassDOT board members praised MBTA general manager Beverly A. Scott for the bidding process.
“This is a win for our riders, this is a win for our financial bottom line, and it’s a win for this authority,” said board member Janice Loux.
Nicole Dungca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.