The administration of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is recommending a Chinese company be awarded a contract to build new subway cars for the MBTA. The railcars will be assembled at a new factory that is to be built in Springfield.
Gov. Patrick made the announcement Tuesday standing in front of an empty 40- acre lot on Springfield’s east side, where the CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles Co. has said it will build a $50 million factory creating over 250 new construction and manufacturing jobs.
"They are the premier manufacturer of railcars in the world and they are looking to expand in North America and they will do that right here in east Springfield, which is pretty exciting."
Executives of the Chinese company announced in Springfield last March plans to purchase the site of the former Westinghouse plant for a North American base of operations if it succeeded in landing the MBTA work.
CNR submitted the lowest of six bids at $566.6 million to build 284 new subway cars to replace decades-old vehicles on the MBTA’s Red and Orange lines. A formal vote to award the contract is scheduled for Wednesday by the MassDOT Board of Directors.
There has been some criticism about the state doing business with a Chinese government-owned company because of human rights abuses in China.
" The company was thoroughly vetted," said Patrick. " Those ( human rights ) issues have been raised, as I understand it, mostly by unsuccessful competitors, so I take it with a grain of salt."
The MBTA stipulated as a condition of the contract that final assembly of the subway cars would have to take place in Massachusetts. Hyundai Rotem of South Korea had proposed to build a factory at another location in Springfield, if it won the MBTA business.
Other bidders did not publically identify possible plant sites, but officials in Pittsfield had hoped to have the railcars built at the former General Electric property.
" There is going to be some disappointment, but I think we got the best deal for Massachusetts, " said Patrick who added " I live near Pittsfield, it is not so far that you can't come here to work."
Springfield city officials were almost giddy with excitement at Tuesday’s announcement. Like many American cities during the last half-century, Springfield has seen its manufacturing base that once supported the economy sharply erode. Mayor Domenic Sarno said Tuesday’s announcement marks the start of a turnaround.
" It is back to the future," declared Sarno.
The site for the railcar factory is right across the street from the headquarters of the Pioneer Valley AFL-CIO. Several union officials were on hand for the announcement including John Scavatto , business agent for Sheetmetal Workers Union Local 63.
" This is absolutely wonderful. It is the biggest thing our local has seen."
Local officials expect construction of the factory to begin next year. The first new subway cars are to be delivered in 2019. The cars are to come off the assembly line at the rate of four per month.