The T’s love affair with SIEMENS AG

For reasons only the Board of Directors of the MBTA can tell us the T has been using Siemens AG of Germany as a major vendor on the Silver Line, Blue Line and the GPS system on the entire bus fleet. To say the least Siemens record on T projects has been spotty.

The new Blue Line cars were supposed to be in service 2 years ago but the project has been delayed over and over again. A month ago the Globe wrote of the latest problems with the cars that include leaking doors and smoking air-conditioning systems. The T board approved purchase of the new cars in November 2001, with delivery of the first ones scheduled for January 2004. Siemens was hoping the Blue Line contract would give them a foothold in the United States subway market so one can assume they lowballed the bid to the T to get the contract. Once again the T is learning that you get what you pay for. For whatever reason you never see experienced subway manufacturers like ALSTOM in the Boston market. Coming on top of the BREDA fiasco on the Green Line you just have to scratch your head at how this continues to happen to the T. The Siemens website proudly tells us about the new Blue Line trains and their specs but doesn’t mention when they plan to deliver them.

For the Silver Line Siemens touts these improvements (PDF) On paper it seems wonderful and I’m sure their salesman did a fine job selling them to the T but the problem is they have never worked as designed. The T’s public response last April was “most of the technology developed for reliable and efficient service on the Silver Line is operational today — sort of.” But when it comes to letting riders know when the next bus is due, ”the MBTA has not been satisfied with the accuracy of the ‘real-time arrival’ messages,” he said.
The contractor is working on fixing flaws in the software, said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. If they can be fixed, the ”next bus arrival” information will soon be displayed.

But not only did Siemens get the contract for the Silver Line they also got the contract for the GPS system for the entire bus fleet. The system is called TRANSITMASTER and as you can see from the company website it is supposed to do everything but drive the bus. Next time you are on a T bus you can see the Transitmaster display to the drivers left. It tells him at a glance how early or late he is and if he is early he is supposed to adjust. It also runs the automatic announcements (Loud & Clear – ADA Announcements ) It would be nice if the computer could be taught to pronounce Lechmere correctly.

I have spoken to several drivers who said the original test vendor for GPS did a much better job but was shutout by Siemens when the entire system went out to bid. That vendor was a company known as Clever Devices who did have the test contract with the MBTA a few years ago. They currently have contracts with Chicago, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Dallas, Long Island, Pittsburgh, Santa Monica, San Francisco, Sacramento and elsewhere. In Chicago the computer announcements sound human with a pleasant male voice. The SF Muni now ever offers real time status on their website for select transit routes. Will Siemens get it to work in Boston? We can only hope but the Silver Line is 4 years old and it hasn’t been fixed.

Sadly as long as the MBTA keeps awarding contracts to the low bidder we the riders are going to suffer. In any event the T should make sure they never allow Siemens to bid ever again. They promise well but they simply do not deliver. Three strikes and out.

1 Comment

Filed under Blue Line, Bus, MBTA, Siemens, Silver Line, transit other cities

One response to “The T’s love affair with SIEMENS AG

  1. It’s interesting, I can see both sides of it. The Clever Devices people did some great work with Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus, and the voices there are a very clear pleasant female voice. But Siemens also provided some great LRVs for LA’s initial LRT system from Long Beach to Downtown LA. They may be having issues in Boston, but they inarguably did the job right in LA.

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