MARTA says new rail cars will offer a better ride

MARTA has approved a $646 million plan to replace its aging fleet of rail cars — a plan the agency says is good news for passengers longing for a better ride.

On Thursday the agency’s board of directors approved a contract to buy 254 new cars from Stadler Rail of Switzerland. The cars will begin arriving in 2023, with others following through 2028.

Though passengers won’t see them for years, MARTA officials say they’ll be pleased when the new cars arrive.

“This is the beginning of a contract that is going to lead to a tremendous improvement in customer service,” MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker told a crowd gathered to watch him sign the contract Thursday.

MARTA recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its rail service. Many of its 318 rail cars have been around since the beginning, and they're showing their age. Others date to 1979, 1985 and 2003 purchases.

As the cars age, they become more prone to breaking down. Parker said 65% of service delays are due to rail car problems. He said newer cars will mean fewer breakdowns.

MARTA says the new cars will feature an open design, modern electric signs, a better public address system and more comfortable seating. They also will have phone charging stations, luggage space and enhanced video surveillance.

With customer feedback, the contractor will begin work on specific designs next year. MARTA will get a pilot car to show off in 2022. The vehicles will begin arriving the following year.

Under the contract, MARTA also has options to buy up to 100 additional rail cars later.

The purchase was delayed for several months because another firm — the Chinese government-owned CRRC — protested the award to Stadler, which was not the low bidder. On Thursday, an attorney for CRRC urged the board to delay the award, saying it would cost taxpayers an extra $64 million.

Parker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the procurement process was not designed to automatically award the contract to the low bidder. He said the point system used to award the contract factored in quality as well as price.

During Thursday’s ceremonial contract signing, MARTA officials stressed Stadler’s long history — it has manufactured trains since 1942.

“We feel like we selected an excellent car builder,” said Dave Springstead, the agency’s chief of rail operations.