No, Not Again, MBTA

As a here-and-there commuter rail passenger, it’s depressing that a plan to replace almost 20 percent of the commuter rail’s passenger cars is now at least a year or more behind schedule.

The need for an upgrade to the fleet was brought home to me in sharp relief during a recent trip to the Danbury Railway Museum. Among the old trains from the golden age of rail on exhibit was a passenger coach whose interior would have been indistinguishable from some of the older commuter rail coaches that date back to the ’70s and ’80s.

In procurement, hindsight is always 20/20. The MBTA took a much lower bid from a far less experienced manufacturer. And it looks like at least some of the ‘savings’ from the lower bid is going to be eaten up in millions of dollars in costs to oversee the contractor.

What’s frustrating is that MBTA has a track record of major procurement snafus. The installation of the automated fare collection system was marked by controversy and lawsuits.

The closest parallel to the current situation is the procurement of the Breda Green Line cars in the ’90s. These cars were the first of their kind to be built by the winning bidder, and they quickly developed a harrowing derailment problem that took another state agency’s intercession, millions in repairs, and years of negotiations to fix.

Big capital purchases run into the hundreds of millions and should make a huge difference in service quality for riders. I’d feel better if the MBTA didn’t have such a struggle with procurement.


Crossposted at Pioneer Institute’s blog.