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Springfield's CRRC could lose Philadelphia-area rail car contract

Workers inspect a subway car under construction at the CRRC plant in Springfield.
Adam Frenier

News that a Philadelphia-area transit agency is cancelling its contract with a Springfield rail car factory is causing concern for one union representing electrical workers there.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) announced late last week it is terminating its $185-million contract for 45 train cars for its commuter railroad. The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper reported the project is years behind schedule and that the cars had many mechanical issues. Those include faulty brakes and electrical wiring.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 7 represents about 180 employees at CRRC’s Springfield factory. A business agent for the union, Robert Wilson, said many of the workers are just out of high school and have undergone training to work on the rail cars.

He said losing SEPTA’s contract, and issues with a different contract for subway cars in the Boston-area are sources of concern for the future of jobs locally.

"A lot of these folks are paycheck-to-paycheck people," Wilson said. "There's been a lot of hiring in the last year-and-a-half, so a lot of these employees over there are entry level employees who are working their way up and starting to get a solid footing, and now they have to worry about their jobs being eliminated?"

Wilson said it’s up to the company to resolve the production issues in order to secure its future.

"I'm hopeful the right things happen and the product's delivered as promised and there's not issues with quality or breakdowns or anything else,” he said. “It's a lot of taxpayer money in these contracts and we need to be delivering a quality product, and if we're not, we're not going to get future contracts,".

CRRC, which is Chinese owned, recently reworked a contract with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for subway cars for its system. That project is also years behind schedule and has been beset with reliability issues with the vehicles. Under the deal, the MBTA waived financial penalties for the delays and allowed for an additional $148 million in expenses. The hope is the new cars for the red and orange lines will be fully delivered by 2027. The amended proposal aims to get upgraded, standardized trains running sooner than alternative options and prioritizes retaining skilled local workers.

CRRC did not respond to requests for comment, but a spokesperson told the Inquirer it is “committed to completing the contract”, and looks forward to working with SEPTA to resolve the issues.

Updated: April 18, 2024 at 6:05 PM EDT
This story has been updated to reflect further details about the contract between the MBTA and CRRC.
Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.