Trade war hangs over ceremony celebrating completion of new MBTA subway cars
SPRINGFIELD — The Chinese company building subway cars for the MBTA hosted a ceremony Tuesday to celebrate the completion of the new Orange Line vehicles at its factory in Western Massachusetts, as it lobbies the Trump administration for a break from the tariffs in the two countries’ ongoing trade war.
The ceremony included a not-so-subtle hint from Chinese Consulate-General Huang Ping about the trade tensions.
“This is a good example of US-China, win-win cooperation, which will benefit everybody’s life,” he said. “As citizens of the two great nations, every one of us has a share of responsibility for maintaining this relationship on the right track. This year has witnessed some turbulences on our economic and trade ties.”
The world’s largest rail manufacturer, CRRC Corp. is subsidized by the same government locked in a manufacturing-centered trade war with President Trump. But unlike most goods for US consumers from China, the new subway cars were built on American soil — at a 204,000-square-foot Springfield factory.
The facility opened last year as part of CRRC’s 2014 deal to build the new subway cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, allowing state officials to celebrate the project as both a boon to the Boston-area transit system and the Western Massachusetts economy. About 120 people work at the facility, a number that is expected to grow to more than 300 by 2020, according to public filings.
Under an $843 million contract, CRRC will assemble nearly 400 new Red and Orange line train cars in Springfield over the next five years. Workers at the factory receive the frames of the vehicles from China and complete the outfitting with wiring, wheels, and most interior components.
The MBTA is testing six new Orange Line cars that were built in China. At Tuesday’s event, Huang, CCRRC representatives, and state officials including Governor Charlie Baker marked the completion of the first two cars to be assembled in Springfield.
Los Angeles and Philadelphia transit officials have also ordered CRRC train cars for their systems that will be built in Springfield.
The company is pressing the Trump administration to exempt it from 25-percent tariffs on a number of components imported from China, including car frames, air ducts, and boxes to hold batteries.
In letters to the US Trade Representative asking for the exemptions, CRRC pitched its Massachusetts outpost as a US subsidiary headquartered in Quincy that supports domestic manufacturing and sources most of its materials from the United States.
In one letter, CRRC suggested the added costs of the tariffs could ultimately come at the T’s expense, arguing they “will result in increasing costs to all parties involved, which in turn will ultimately either be borne by the public or, alternatively, result in less value being utilized from limited federal and state funds.”
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said CRRC has not sought any change orders for the contract related to the tariffs.
Baker on Tuesday said the tariffs are a “big concern,” but was unsure whether they would ultimately result in higher costs for the T. Whatever the cost, the overcrowded and aging Orange Line needs the new cars, he said.
“The cars these are replacing have been on the system since the ‘70s and have over 2 million miles on them. This is going to be worth it at the end of the day,” he said. “This is important, and we’re going to get it done no matter what.”