T union raises concern about outside contractor
Company takes 8 weeks to repair 8 motors
THE MBTA RESTORED full service to the Orange Line in March but nevertheless shipped 24 disabled Orange Line traction motors to an outside contractor for repair. The T says it expects to receive the first of the refurbished motors back on Friday after more than eight weeks of work.
The contract for the motor repairs is being criticized by the Boston Carmen’s Union as wasteful spending by T management and an example of how outside private contractors don’t always measure up. “We do it in-house quicker and cheaper,” said James O’Brien, president of the Carmen’s Union, which is fighting legislation filed by the Baker administration that would ease state privatization restrictions.
By industry standards, the T’s Red and Orange Line cars are ancient. The Red Line has 144 cars that are between 21 and 28 years old and 74 that are at least 46 years old. All 120 Orange Line cars are between 34 and 36 years old. The older cars are powered by direct current traction motors, which tend to malfunction in the snow. This past winter, T officials say, 160 Orange Line traction motors failed, crippling services.
Most of the motor repairs were done at a T facility in Everett, which, according to union officials, churned out refurbished motors at a pace of about 12 a week. Between January 16 and March 26, union officials say, 134 motors were restored to service.
The MBTA nevertheless shipped 24 damaged motors to a Cleveland-based company called Swiger Coil on March 24. The contract said repair costs could not exceed $14,500 per motor, bringing the total potential repair bill to $348,000.
“Because of this unprecedented number of failures, the T entered into an agreement with Swiger as an emergency stopgap measure,” Pesaturo said in an email. “The Everett facility does not have unlimited capacity to repair the Orange Line motors. Motors were failing at an unprecedented rate, and the T needed a backup plan if the hard-working crews at the Everett Shops were not able to handle all the necessary work in house.”
Union officials say the contract with Swiger Coil was an unnecessary waste of money, but Pesaturo said it was prudent given the shaky state of the Orange Line. “The action of shipping out the 24 worst traction motors was akin to casting a safety net,” he said in an email. “At the time they were shipped out, dozens of motors were broken and repair persons were going through spare parts like water. Supervisors chose the 24 motors that were in the worst condition and shipped them out while personnel here worked around the clock, repairing other motors.”
According to Pesaturo, the first eight repaired motors are due back from Swiger Coil on Friday, more than eight weeks after the company first received them. Pesaturo said four more motors will be returned each week until the contract is completed.
Because the contract amount was less than $500,000, the T did not have to satisfy the privatization requirements of the Taxpayer Protection Act, which is more commonly referred to as the Pacheco Law, named after its sponsor, Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton. Both Gov. Charlie Baker and the House want to exempt the T from the Pacheco Law, but the Senate is balking.According to documents supplied by union officials, the more limited, basic motor overhaul cost at the MBTA is $1,200, nearly half as much as the $2,250 charged by Swiger Coil. One union official said the turnaround time at the T is three days, while it has taken weeks at Swiger Coil.
Pesaturo, however, says the total cost of repairing a more severely damaged motor at the T ranges from $4,000 to $10,000, not including additional work that has to be performed by outside contractors at a cost of $3,000 to $5,700. Using Pesaturo’s numbers, the total repair cost at the T would fall between $7,000 and $15,700, a range that’s in line with the T’s contract with Swiger Coil that limits its charge per repaired motor to no more than $14,500.