It only took two door closing issues for the MTA to take what NYC Transit President Andy Byford called a “drastic” measure to remove all 298 of the newly arrived $600 million R179 subway cars out of service until every car is inspected and a new software safety upgrade is installed.
“I'm keen to get these trains back into service, customers want them, but they'll come back when we're wholly satisfied that we've found a safe way to do that,” Byford told reporters Thursday.
The first door incident occurred on Christmas Eve on a southbound C train just past High Street. It was travelling between stations in Brooklyn when one of the doors opened about four inches, triggering the brakes. Crews locked the door and then took the train out of service.
The MTA says no one was injured. Bombardier, the train manufacturer, said it was a “one-off” incident, according to the MTA, and that the problem had been resolved.
Except it happened again on January 3rd, this time at Jay Street when the train was stopped in the station. Crews locked the door, and continued on.
Then, on January 7th, Bombardier informed the MTA that these two problems could be systemic and affect all of the newly delivered R179 cars. The MTA took them all out of service, replacing them with older models.
“The R179 cars have been in service for over one million miles and have experienced only two incidents related to the door mechanisms,” Bombardier wrote in a statement. “We’d like to reiterate that we believe passenger safety was not compromised. Our root cause analysis indicates that these incidents were due to a rare and very specific combination of unforeseen mechanical and operational circumstances that have proven extremely difficult for us to replicate and were unlikely to reoccur. That being said, safety is our utmost priority, which is why we are acting swiftly and decisively to put in place corrective measures on the entire fleet to ensure that the door mechanisms always perform as expected.”
On Thursday, Byford wouldn’t say whether this incident could cause Bombardier to lose eligibility to bid on future MTA contracts, like the 1,900 new subway cars which are part of the next Capital Plan.
“We need more suppliers and more contractors in the game, we want competitive bidding, we want quality products,” Byford said. “I want equipment that works.”
Bombardier was barred from bidding on the R211, which went to competitors Kawasaki, because of delays in delivering the R179s. The new R211 train cars are expected to arrive later this year.
“If we’re going to make any lemonade out of these lemons, it should be to fix the process and not just the cars,” Lisa Daglian with the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, wrote in a statement. “On the subject of fixing things, top of the list should also be changing the debarment rules to reflect the reality of the market. As written, Bombardier should already be out – not just for the R179 delays but also on Positive Train Control overruns. Yet the MTA – which wrote the rules – is flouting them. It’s time to turn the emergency rules into regulations that hold contractors responsible but are actionable and practical.”
Bombardier gave the MTA 18 extra train cars as part of its long-delayed $600 million order of 300 R179 cars. The last of those was delivered at the end of 2019.
As for taking legal action over the latest snafu, Byford said “all options remain on the table,” but he’s focusing on fixing the cars firsts. “We’ll look at the legal ramifications of this and assessment of costs.”