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MBTA boss to hunt down tardy rail coaches in South Korea

Where are the T's new double-decker commuter coaches? MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis will be knocking on Hyundai Rotem's door next week to get answers.

A South Korea-based company that was supposed to hand over 75 double-decker commuter rail trains for the MBTA is more than a year late in delivering them, and a lot of people want to know: What is the hold up?

Hyundai Rotem officials have tiptoed around the tardiness for some time, even traveling to Boston for an MBTA board meeting to field questions on why they are late and when the coaches will be ready — but at this point, it's a bit hazy.

Still short on answers, MBTA Acting General Manager Jonathan plans to depart Friday for South Korea to meet with company leaders, speak directly with the company’s chief executive Min-ho Lee and tour the factory.

"I’m hoping what we’ll get is a time frame they can commit to for the delivery of 75 commuter rail coaches. We have heard that others have experienced delays — but at the end of the day they got a quality product," Davis said, adding that he wants to stress to the public that there should be no concern over the quality of the coaches.

Davis has said that while T officials are pleased that Hyundai Rotem has finally agreed to provide the T with performance metrics – something T officials have asked the company to do for several months – he still feels the company needs to be pushed.

Under the original $190 million contract signed with Hyundai Rotem, the company was scheduled to deliver rail cars in the spring of 2011. In September 2010, T officials agreed to push the time line back, with delivery dates beginning this past January.

The bi-level coaches will be the commuter rail’s first new cars in five years and will allow numerous 20- to 30-year-old coaches to be retired.

The coaches, which feature improved rest rooms, Wi-Fi, tables and real-time LED message signs, will mostly benefit North Shore customers.

In July, the MBTA board decided to spend roughly $150 million to fix up 74 commuter coaches, which average 100,000 miles per year of service. They will also add seven new ones to the fleet.

The coaches just turned 20 and 21 years old and were designed for a minimum 25-year lifespan. T officials described the overhauls as "an essential element for maintaining the capacity and frequency of service for MBTA ridership" and predicted the work would enable the authority to get 10 more years out of the coaches.

T officials said the coaches have deteriorated further in the four years since consultants determined that many areas of the coaches were "no longer in a state of good repair."

Eighty-percent of the project will be reimbursed with federal funds.

As for Davis' trek to Asia, a T spokesman said he is meeting with Lee Monday and touring the factory Tuesday — but beyond that, the rest of his schedule is developing.

 
 
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