S. Korea company to MBTA on 75 late trains: “We’re embarrassed”

MBTA Acting General Manager Jonathan Davis checks out commuter trains at Hyundai Rotem in South Korea.

The head of the MBTA, who is currently in South Korea hunting down 75 double-decker commuter trains that were due over a year ago, said today that executives are “embarrassed” by the 18-month delay in delivering the trains.

MBTA Acting General Manager Jonathan Davis is in Korea this week to push executives at Hyundai Rotem, and today he said he got a firm commitment from the chief executive officer, M.H. Lee, that the company would adhere to the revised production and delivery schedule. When he arrived Monday, Davis said he had a “frank” discussion with Lee.

“Mr. Lee told me that in his entire career there, he never had an incidence where the chief executive for the company they were manufacturing for actually had to visit the production facility,” Davis told the State House News in a telephone interview from Korea Tuesday.

Davis said his visit to the plant, where he toured the production facility and walked through MBTA trains under construction, made an impact. But he is still not completely confident in their ability to deliver as promised.

“My presence here has been noticed at the highest levels of the Hyundai Rotem company,” he said.

“The proof is in adhering to the schedule. Up to now, they have not been able to deliver,” Davis added. “What I told them in the end is don’t confuse efforts with results. We want to see the coaches delivered on the most recent schedule, and there can be no further slippage. I do have a wrap-up meeting tomorrow with Mr. Lee to debrief him. I will again be asking him to commit to the revised delivery schedule.”

In July, Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey threatened to fire the company if they did not come up with a timetable for completion of the double-decker trains the T wants to increase rider capacity.

Under the original $190 million contract signed with Hyundai Rotem, the company was supposed to deliver rail cars starting in the spring of 2011. In 2010, T officials agreed to push the timeline back, with delivery dates beginning this past January. Only four pilot trains have been delivered so far. The MBTA has paid Hyundai Rotem $40 million to date.

Two months ago, Hyundai Rotem’s CEO visited Boston, pledging to add resources to the project at both the Korean factory, and a facility in Philadelphia where the rail cars are completed. Davis said he saw the additional production lines dedicated to the T project when he toured the plant this week. There are now two production lines devoted to the T project – one with a line of ten cars and one with eight.

The commuter coaches are now planned for delivery in groups of four with the majority in service by July 2014. Four trains are being shipped Wednesday to the Philadelphia plant, Davis said.

MBTA officials never received an explanation for the delays, and Davis did not get any further insight into the problems that caused them during his visit, he said.

“However, we are where we are. We need to make sure there is no further slippage and that we receive a quality product,” he said.

Davis returns to Boston Friday after a final meeting with the chief executive of Hyundai Rotem and a tour of the subway line in Seoul.

“I want to apologize to our customers for this project being late,” Davis said. “It is very vital to being able to provide service. However, those delays were not the result of any action by the MBTA, but completely Hyundai Rotem being unable to deliver.”


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