U.S. senators representing the Washington region want Metro to take stronger steps to guard against the risk that buying subway cars from China would allow Beijing to use the vehicles to conduct electronic spying on the nation’s capital.
In a letter to Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, the lawmakers say the transit agency should get approval from the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Department before awarding the contract for its next-generation rail cars to a foreign adversary.
The letter adds pressure on Metro to take more extensive precautions than it has done so far in light of the possibility that the state-owned China Railway Rolling Stock Corp. (CRRC) could win the deal to build up to 800 of Metro’s 8000-series rail cars.
CRRC has used low bids to win four of five large U.S. transit rail car contracts awarded since 2014. The company — which critics say benefits from state subsidies — is expected to be a strong contender for the Metro contract, which is likely to be worth more than $1 billion.
Some analysts say resistance to CRRC in Congress, the Pentagon and the U.S. rail-car industry may force Metro to award the contract to a different company. Doing so would probably lead to legal challenges and cost Metro hundreds of millions of dollars, given CRRC’s bargain prices. No U.S. company makes subway cars, so China competes in that market against companies from Asia, Europe and Canada.
The news release also referred to a Jan. 7 front-page story in The Washington Post reporting concerns that China could install malware in the subway cars’ electronic systems to conduct video surveillance, monitor conversations or cause a crash.