SPRINGFIELD — A top executive of the company that will build new MBTA railcars promised to deliver high-quality Red and Orange line trains on time, despite the turmoil rocking China's economy and the recent merger of that country's two biggest railcar makers.
Yu Weiping, vice president of the China Railway Rolling Stock Corp., joined Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday for the groundbreaking of a plant in Springfield that will assemble the railcars.
Yu said through an interpreter that executing the half-billion-dollar contract will be a "signature project" for his company, which has yet to build railcars in the North American market.
The $566.6 million contract is also crucial for the beleaguered Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which was walloped by last winter's snowstorms. Thursday's ceremony came shortly after the MBTA announced it would take more than $7 billion to put all of its assets into good working condition.
During the ceremony, Baker cited the need for the project by highlighting the age of the T's subway cars. During the snowstorms, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told him that many of the Red Line cars had also been in service during the Blizzard of 1978, he said.
In October, under then-governor Deval Patrick, the MBTA chose what was at the time called CNR-MA, a subsidiary of one of China's biggest railcar and locomotive manufacturers, to build 284 subway cars. This year, that company merged with another state-owned entity to create China Railway Rolling Stock Corp.
Pollack said she knows the T will have to watch the company closely to make sure it delivers high-quality products on schedule.
Past MBTA rail purchases have been plagued with problems. Hyundai Rotem Co., a South Korean company, delivered commuter rail coaches years late and rife with problems. Motive Power Inc., of Idaho, produced commuter rail locomotives that were sidelined as soon as they were delivered.
Recently, other bidders that lost the Red and Orange line project have questioned the Chinese company's experience and relatively low price.
Pollack, who also spoke at Thursday's groundbreaking, brushed aside concerns about China Railway's lack of experience in North America. She said that may even be a boon for the T, since the company wants to prove itself to other US transit systems.
Yu said the company has been in talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York about future projects. (An MTA spokeswoman said she could not comment on its competitive bidding process.)
"If they want other business in the United States, they're going to have to produce this contract on time, on budget, and in proper working order, or they're going to have a hard time being competitive," Pollack said.
Yu echoed her comments, saying his company needs to finish the new cars according to the T's timeline. Delivery of Orange Line cars is to begin in 2018, and delivery of the Red Line cars is to begin the following year. All of the new cars should be in service by 2023.
The T's contract stipulates that the company can be penalized $500 for every car and every day that the new vehicles are late.
Yu also said he believed the recent turbulence in China's financial markets will not affect the company, because the subway industry is "on the fast track and in high demand."
China Railway strongly courted the state for the project. Before the choice was finalized, its predecessor company had already announced intentions to build an assembly plant on the old Westinghouse manufacturing site in Springfield and create jobs. This year, the company paid $12 million for the land on Page Boulevard, where it plans a 220,000-square-foot facility.
The company has moved forward despite continued protests from losing bidders, who said the T gave the company an unfair advantage. At one point, the T rejected appeals from Hyundai Rotem, Canada's Bombardier Inc., and Japan's Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. In May, a Superior Court judge denied an injunction request from Hyundai Rotem that was meant to stop CNR-MA from moving forward.