New MBTA cars: CRRC in Springfield ‘obsessed with safety’ to add extra steps to assembly and quality control procedures

A Springfield manufacturing plant building new Orange and Red Line cars for the MBTA will add extra steps to check bolted connections under the floor after a new Orange Line car experienced a problem in one of its multiple drive units. braking last week.

MBTA chief executive Steve Poftak told the transit agency’s board on Thursday morning that CRRC — the Chinese company that manages the Springfield facility — will change parts of the assembly processes and car quality assurance procedures to verify that the bolts located in the brake units are installed correctly.

As part of updating factory procedures, a team of MBTA vehicle engineers traveled to Springfield this week to assess and audit the production process. After the assessment, another layer of verification of correct installation will be added as well as random audits of “critical processes”, according to the MBTA.

“We are also implementing an additional level of inspection of these bolts to ensure this issue does not reoccur,” Poftak said, adding that the MBTA plans to send improperly installed bolts for analysis.

A CRRC spokesperson said the company “continues to work collaboratively with the MBTA and supports the MBTA’s enhanced inspection protocols.”

Only one new Orange Line train last week encountered a problem in one of its brake units where a single bolt was found to have been installed incorrectly at the Springfield manufacturing plant. The train was left out of service and T officials have since stressed that neither passengers nor employees posed a safety risk.

After the incident, the transit agency removed all new Orange and Red Line cars from service while engineering and technical teams conducted an investigation. Vehicle maintenance personnel then began inspecting and verifying that each bolt – 24 per car, 144 per train – was properly installed, according to the MBTA.

Of the 64 new Orange Line cars available for service, 56 have been inspected and 50 have been returned to service, Poftak said. The six new Red Line cars available for service were also inspected and returned to service.

The agency said 17 bolts on seven cars were identified as “out of specified torque range”, one of which was a Red Line car that has since been repaired, according to the MBTA.

“These seven cars will be available for service after further analysis and hardware replacement,” said an MBTA presentation to the board. “The inspection process should be completed on all remaining Orange Line cars by [close of business] 5/26.

Poftak said there were multiple brake units in each train and the issue with the new Orange Line car last week “was not a safety threat”.

“It was a mechanical problem,” he said. “And really, out of an abundance of caution, because these cars are our newest cars in the fleet, we really wanted to figure out what happened and make sure there wasn’t a bigger issue here.”

The changes at the Springfield manufacturing plant come as the Federal Transit Administration conducts an inspection of MBTA’s safety management. An FTA official in an April letter to Poftak said they were “extremely concerned about the ongoing security issues” at the MBTA.

Since the letter and inspection were leaked, a number of MBTA officials and elected heads of state, including Governor Charlie Baker, have said they welcome the FTA’s investigation. At Thursday’s meeting, MBTA Board Chair Betsy Taylor echoed those sentiments and set out three priorities for the year ahead.

Taylor said the first priority was safety at the MBTA.

“I understand that security is an ongoing project; it must remain at the center of staff efforts and organizational investments,” she said. “While thousands of people use the T safely every day, too many tragic accidents have occurred in recent times. For this reason, the Board and I welcome the findings of the ALE and the comments and suggestions from other parties.”

The board “will do everything in its power to implement these recommendations as quickly as possible,” Betsy said, alluding to an FTA safety report due out later this summer.

Poftak said MBTA officials have had “a long series of talks” with various teams the FTA has put together, and the transit agency is currently in the midst of a number of visits. sites by FTA officials.

“It’s really an opportunity for us as an organization to learn and get a thorough assessment of where we can do well, in terms of safety,” he said. “But I think more importantly, where we have a deficit and where we need to improve our processes.”

A series of security incidents have led to growing criticism of the MBTA’s ability to manage the security of its vehicles and at stations. The April death of Robinson Lalin at T’s Broadway station sparked another National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

A director of the Better City project, Caitlin Allen-Connelly, said that despite the MBTA’s efforts to improve safety, the recent letter from the EFA signals that work remains.

“As Chief Executive Poftak noted at the A Better City Board meeting yesterday, safety must continue to be the number one priority of the MBTA and this Board,” Allen Connelly said in comments. pre-recorded remarks played during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting.

Board member Travis McCready said the transit agency should “be obsessed with safety.”

“It’s not just our priority as a board, but it needs to be every employee’s priority to ensure our customers get home and get home safe,” McCready said. “So we have to be obsessed with security.”

Marjorie N. McClure