T Works on Locomotive Woes

New commuter rail units have required extensive repairs but are beginning to show reliability

Even good news for the MBTA, it seems, comes with bad news. The latest example: The T's finally put into service 40 new commuter rail locomotives it bought for over $5.5 million apiece, replacing units that were in some cases nearly 40 years old.

But from July to December, they still had over 60 breakdowns. And according to new data first reported by Nicole Dungca in The Boston Globe Monday, failures with the new units accounted for nearly a third of all delayed trains from June through December. Two of the brand-new locomotives have even been sent back to Motive Power Inc. and its engine subcontractor, General Electric, for major repairs.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, in an interview after Monday afternoon’s meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, said she is not worried that the HSP46 locomotives are lemons.

“There's a reason why you buy locomotives with two year warranties, and it does take a certain amount of time to shake them down,’’ Pollack said. “We’re obviously seeing things that need to be fixed, and we fully intend to hold the manufacturer accountable for under the warranty.’’

MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola said that “we’re not completely pleased” with the units but agreed that problems are being fixed, some “operator error” issues with engineers and mechanics have been addressed, and they are proving to get more reliable.

In December, the most recent month with full statistics, the HSP46 units went on average 18,723 miles between failures, according to data provided by MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. That was three to five times better than most of the other older units still in operation.

Kate Price of Wellesley, waiting for her afternoon train home, said she’s been enjoying reliable service this winter. “I take it every single day, and it’s been good so far, knock wood,’’ Price said. She never notices what kind of locomotive is pulling her train. “Not really, no. I just want it to get me there,’’ Price said.

The T first ordered the locomotives back in 2010 and many that arrived in Boston in 2014 were kept off the road for months while problems were worked out. The T boasted then the units would reduce emissions and save 36,500 gallons of diesel fuel annually compared to other units.

“You need to look at the overall performance of the fleet,’’ Pollack said. “While it is not where it needs to be, and we will get it better, and we will get anything fixed that is owed to us under warranty, as a fleet it is working better than the locomotives it replaced. There is no question about that.’’

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