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Losing bidder wants Chinese train builder disqualified

One of the losing bidders for the contract to build new Red and Orange line cars is protesting the MBTA’s choice of a Chinese company to complete the work, asking the agency to reopen bids and disqualify the winning company from the process.

In October, the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation approved the MBTA’s recommendation to award the $566.6 million contract to CNR MA, a state-owned railcar and locomotive manufacturer in China.

Larry L. Varn, an attorney representing Hyundai Rotem, wrote a letter to MassDOT and MBTA officials last week accusing CNR MA of offering an unreasonably low bid and of improper contact with the state’s transportation secretary and governor during the bidding process. Varn provided a copy of the letters to The Globe.

The letters were sent as a formal protest of the award. Michael Verseckes, a MassDOT spokesman, said that the agency planned to extend the deadline for other losing bidders to file bid protests, as it has done with other large awards.


Verseckes said that MassDOT officials have not yet set a timeline for responding to any protests.

“Once the process has been established, MassDOT’s chief procurement officer will review any and all submissions and determine whether or not a protest has merit,” Verseckes wrote in an e-mail.

Representatives of Hyundai Rotem, Bombardier, and Kawasaki, companies that bid on the project, had earlier aired their concerns at a MassDOT board meeting, just before the board of directors unanimously approved the deal. Hyundai Rotemis nearing the end of its contract with the MBTA to deliver new commuter rail cars, a project beset by delays and mechanical, engineering, and software issues.

In Hyundai Rotem’s letter to MassDOT and MBTA officials, Varn raised concern about a trip to China that Governor Deval Patrick and former transportation secretary Richard A. Davey took during the bidding process. Both said they met with CNR representatives during the trip.

“CNR’s communications were wholly improper and put CNR on unequal footing vis-a-vis other bidders” who did not get the same visit, Varn wrote.


Asked about the China visit in October, a MassDOT spokeswoman said the governor had not discussed the contract with CNR representatives during his trip. Davey had also said he believed the meeting was proper.

Hyundai Rotem’s letter pointed out that CNR MA’s proposal of $566.6 million was the lowest by more than $100 million, and said the bid was “unreasonably low for a project of this magnitude and illustrate’s CNR’s inexperience in North American vehicle procurement contracts.”

Varn wrote that the MBTA’s failure to consider serious concerns because of the drastic differences between proposals is “arbitrary and capricious.”

Lydia M. Rivera, a spokeswoman for CNR MA, declined to comment about the letters.

In a separate letter to MBTA and MassDOT officials, Varn also took aim at a widely-reported anticipated merger between CNR MA and CSR Corporation, another state-owned rail company in China that had also bid on the contract to build Red and Orange Line cars.

“CSR has been ‘hampered by quality concerns’ and there can be no assurance that such quality concerns would not continue in the Red and Orange Line procurement,” he wrote.

He said that if CNR MA had not disclosed an anticipated merger to the MBTA, the company had deliberately withheld “information which alone should disqualify CNR as lacking the requisite candor and veracity necessary to participate in a public bidding process in Massachusetts.”

He wrote that if the merger had been disclosed, the MBTA failed to reveal that fact to the board of directors in its summary and recommendation.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.