Over the past couple of years, leaders of transit companies and U.S. government officials have expressed growing concern about the Chinese Railway Rolling Stock Corporation’s (CRRC) involvement in the manufacturing of commuter rail and light rail cars for United States transit agencies. The concerns stem mainly from the fact that CRRC is suspected of being subsidized by the Chinese government, enabling it to underbid American manufacturers. In addition, some fear that CRRC is placing devices and equipment on the rail cars that can be used to spy on Americans traveling on the cars.
A year ago, NBC News reported allegations that children as young as four are put to work mining mica in Africa that might be used in CRRC’s production of the new rail cars.
This allegation caught the attention of Massachusetts state Rep. Shawn Dooley, but MBTA told Dooley that CRRC is not using children to mine mica – Dooley, however, was not totally satisfied with the assurance. Dooley said “[the message] is not sending a strong message against child labor. I don’t understand why the MBTA is so protective of this arrangement.”
In response, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak told Dooley that “[the agency] denounces illegal labor practices and considers the use of child labor to be especially heinous.”
Poftak also said that the agency looked into last year’s NBC allegations around child labor, and CRRC says there is no link between child labor and their production of the rail cars. In addition, Poftak told the Boston Herald in a letter that “MBTA staff required that CRRC immediately conduct an internal investigation regarding use of mica in their vehicles and the components. He said that CRRC responded by saying that “no mica hasa been used in CRRC’s carbody sections for the past ten years and that CRRC’s major systems use mica that is only produced by companies based in the United States.”
CRRC has been awarded $800 million by MBTA to build over 400 Red and Orange line cars at it’s huge manufacturing plant in Springfield, Mass. This plant is the only one of it’s kind in the U.S., employs 280 people, and opened in 2017.
Tensions with China have been growing over the past several months on issues like rail car manufacturing. Joseph Fewsmith, a professor of international relations and political science at Boston University said “the atmosphere in Sino-U.S. relations has deteriorated a lot in the last couple of years, sometimes for good reasons, but also for less good reasons.”
Fewsmith agrees with other experts that as the Wuhan-borne coronavirus devastates economies all over the world, distrust of China is building.