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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Here we go again

They don't have a track record building rail cars and they don't even meet the basic requirements of having an American manufacturing facility. Sounds just about right to Dan Grabauskas.

Smilin' Dan is apparently undeterred by the colossal flop of the sleek, track-jumping lemon cars built by an Italian company -- or even the history lesson in a decision to have a helicopter company manufacture trolley cars with hundreds of moving door parts. He's opting for Hyundai Rotem to build commuter rail cars.

Apparently with massive debt problems, three overdue, overbudget Green Line station renovations and a host of other issues, Smilin' Dan figures he could use a breather. So line up a company with what the Globe calls "scant" US experience to deal with the problem of overcrowded commuter rail trains.

That should stretch the 2010 deadline for delivery of four pilot cars to a point in time when they can actually deal with the issue.

The Globe's Noah Bierman provides a good explanation of why US presence is necessary:
"The European theory on how to keep people safe on railroads is to avoid collision. The American theory is to expect that collisions will happen and to build the vehicles like tanks," [former Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Fred] Salvucci said.
While I prefer the European solution (which no doubt also requires engineers to keep their cell phones off), this won't be a philosophical discussion.

But it will be an effort to raise a basic premise: you get what you pay for. Hyundai Rotem, like AnsaldoBreda before it, underbid the competition. In Boston, the experience was clear:
A 1995 contract to build Green Line trolley cars with the Italian company now known as AnsaldoBreda resulted in accusations of shoddy work - including derailments and leaky air conditioning systems - and a $50 million lawsuit against the MBTA. The T halted delivery in 2004 after frequent breakdowns. The order was completed this year.
Rotem's track record so far is equally undistinguished:
Rotem has fallen months behind schedule on its other two American commuter coach orders, in Philadelphia and Southern California. Officials at Southern California's Metrolink commuter line and Philadelphia's SEPTA said they expect delivery of their trains about six months later than first promised because of problems Rotem has had buying the specific type of steel required on US train cars. [Hyung Wook Kim, president of Hyundai Rotem USA Corp.] said the delays would be no more than three months in either city. Despite those delays, Metrolink and SEPTA officials say they are pleased with Rotem.
You get what you pay for. Except of course when it comes to Smilin' Dan's salary.

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