Massachusetts’ New Chinese-Made Subway Cars Fail Again

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Massachusetts’ new Orange Line cars made by one of China’s largest train makers have again been removed from service, this time because of a brake issue.

According to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), a new Orange Line train experienced a mechanical problem in one of the train’s “multiple braking units” on May 19. The incident happened at Wellington Station during the morning commute, when one of the brakes on a train went offline. No one was hurt.

“While we work to determine the exact cause of the failure, we are proactively removing all new Orange Line trains from service out of an abundance of caution,” MBTA said on Twitter.

Older trains will remain in service. MBTA said Orange Line riders should expect longer wait times and allow extra time for travel.

MBTA’s new Red and Orange Line cars are assembled in Springfield from car sells made in China by the Chinese state-owned company CRRC. Some train components are made locally. The new trains have failed at least five times since their debut in 2019.

On Sept. 20, 2019, a door on a new Orange Line car suddenly opened as the train was in motion. According to an MBTA spokesperson, an investigation determined that a bump stop component for the car did not perform as it should have.

Two months later, a new train derailed as it ran slowly back to the Wellington Rail Yard maintenance facility. Investigators found “unusual noise” under the train, which was caused by a faulty wear pad.

Then on March 3, 2020, “a fault with the bolsters” again caused MBTA to temporarily take the new trains out of service.

They were pulled from service for the fourth time on March 16, 2021, because of a derailment near Wellington Station. MBTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville later said in board meeting that tests conducted on the new cars determined that, as the mileage of the vehicles increases, there is a greater resistance on the truck frames. Investigators found that the trains would grip more as the side bearer pads wore down, creating more friction than expected.

CRRC is under contract to deliver 252 Red Line cars and 152 Orange Line cars to the MBTA over the next few years. The first fleet of six new Orange Line cars went into service in August 2019. Over the past decade, Chinese rail manufacturers have enjoyed quick expansion into global markets due to the Chinese Communist Party’s aggressive policies and heavy subsidies.

Shawn Dooley, a Republican state representative, warned about the trains’ potential quality issues in 2019. At the time, rollout of the new Orange Line cars had been delayed twice due to software issues identified during early independent testing.

“At this point, is anyone shocked? Five years ago, when I started bringing these issues up, I was ridiculed for being a conspiracy theorist. Time and time again, the CRRC fails, and we keep making excuses and continue to pay hundreds of millions of dollars,” Dooley said after Orange Line’s braking failure on Thursday.

“Think of all the good that money could have done if actually used to help people in our community, as opposed to wasting it on junk that has never worked,” he said.

Learner Liu

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