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Rollout Of New Orange Line Cars Delayed Until Spring

The first pair of new MBTA Orange Line cars were unveiled Dec. 18, 2018. (Courtesy MBTA)
The first pair of new MBTA Orange Line cars were unveiled Dec. 18, 2018. (Courtesy MBTA)

The MBTA announced Orange Line delays Monday — not delays in subway service, but delays in beginning to get a fleet of 152 new Orange Line cars into passenger service on the T.

Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville told the T's Fiscal and Management Control Board that the debut of the new Orange Line cars, once expected later this month, has been pushed to "early spring" to allow for required testing of the new trains' signal system.

The Chinese company manufacturing the MBTA's new Orange Line cars, CRRC, uses Alstom as a subcontractor for the trains' signal system, which Gonneville described as "a very sophisticated black box." Because the system is a new product for Alstom, Gonneville said it must undergo independent testing by a third party to make sure "under any circumstances, no matter what, the system will behave and react as it was designed to react."

Gonneville said no issues have been found with any of the new Orange Line cars CRRC has already delivered to the MBTA for the transit agency's own ongoing testing.

"We're going to do our best to work with them to see if we can expedite the schedule, but again, this is something that affects the safety-critical system, a vital system for these trains, and because this is a key part of the ultimate certification of these vehicles being placed into service, we want to make sure that they thoroughly do their due diligence," Gonneville said.

An outside firm hired by Alstom is conducting the testing, Gonneville said, and will not require that each train car be individually tested. He said the one-time testing is not expected to slow down the manufacturing of additional train cars or track testing of cars as they are delivered to the T.

After Monday's FMCB meeting, Gonneville told reporters that the T knew the signal system would need to be tested but expected that it would have been done by now.

"This is something that we knew was one of the items that we had to get resolved, it was one of the items that we knew that we had to work through to ultimately certify the vehicles before we would put them into revenue service," he said. "The team was hopeful and everyone had projected that this process would be completed by about mid-to-late January giving us the certifications to get them into service in late January."

Alstom has now told the T that its testing will be complete by mid-March and Gonneville said Monday that, "we feel that about a week or two after that we will be able to get the vehicles into service."

Had the testing been completed already, Gonneville said the T "would be on schedule to get these vehicles into service at the end of January."

"Essentially, I think that this is probably the last critical item we have to get resolved before we get these vehicles into service," he added.

The MBTA has ordered 252 new Red Line cars and 152 new Orange Line cars as it attempts to bring the subway system back to a state of good repair in hopes of reducing breakdowns and delays. The Orange Line cars will be the first to be introduced to passenger service and the T expects to have an entirely new Orange Line fleet by the end of 2022. The Red Line fleet replacement is expected to be completed by 2023.

Though passengers will not be able to board them, Gonneville said that the new cars will begin to rumble along Orange Line tracks later this month so the T can get a sense for how the new cars will co-exist with the older cars that make up the current Orange Line fleet.

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