The first prototype of new subway cars that will eventually be manufactured in western Massachusetts are being shipped this week from China to Boston.
Roughly six months ahead of the scheduled start of production at a new $95 million factory in Springfield, four fully-assembled pilot cars are scheduled to leave on November 18th from the port of Shanghai bound for Boston.
After arriving in Boston in December, the new cars will be tested by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on the Orange Line to make sure the modern vehicles fit into the tunnels and stations of the nation’s oldest transit system.
The prototypes were built at CRRC’s factory in Chanchung and demonstrated there for MBTA officials in October. CRRC released a promotional video of the demonstration.
The Chinese government-owned company is the world’s largest maker of passenger rail cars. In 2014, CRRC won a $566 million contract to build 404 new cars for the MBTA. Because no federal money was committed, the state could require the cars be assembled in Massachusetts.
The 204,000-square foot factory CRRC has built in Springfield is the region’s largest new manufacturing facility in generations. There is also a 2,240-foot test track on the property.
CRRC expects to employ 150 production workers with salaries between $50,000 - $60,000 plus benefits, according to Paul Gour, a business agent with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 7.
" It's going to be a good job to come out of high school," Gour said. He pointed out that CRRC has set up training programs at Springfield's Putnam Vocational Technical High School and other local trade schools.
" It is a real good wage to start and good benefits," he said. " It's a positive for Springfield."
Production at the Springfield factory is expected to begin around April 1, 2018, with the delivery of the first cars due by the end of next year, per the contract with the MBTA.
Governor Charlie Baker, who toured the nearly-completed factory in October, said he expects the production schedule to be met.
"They are going to be moving a lot of cars through ( here) in a pretty precise and organized way once they start taking delivery of parts from overseas. They said they could probably do 20-30 a month, which is going to be great," said Baker.
The contract to buy the new subway cars was signed before Baker took office, but the Republican governor has made fixing the MBTA a top priority after the harsh 2015 winter that saw numerous equipment breakdowns that stranded passengers.
Subway cars that are to be replaced by the new ones built in Springfield are more than 40 years old.
In addition to the MBTA work, CRRC has contracts to build new train cars for Los Angeles and Philadelphia. There is enough work to keep the Springfield factory humming for the next eight years, according to general manager Mark Smith.
" 2025, right now, locked and in the books," said Smith.
Earlier this year, CRRC sent 32 people hired to work at the Springfield factory to company headquarters in China for three months of training.