The rolling stock on the C line has become something of a running joke. Every summer, the MTA replaces the R32s with fancy new cars due to concerns over air conditioning power, and every fall, riders are disappointed when the cars, which debuted during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in 1964, make their return. Had all gone according to plan, the MTA would be gearing up to phase out those 51-year-old subway cars along with the R42s in use on the J/Z line. But all has not gone according to plan, and it’s about to cost the MTA at least $50 million over the next few years.
The story first came to us from Dan Rivoli. The Daily News transit reporter combed through copious amounts of MTA budget documents to find the note on Page V-222 of this pdf file. In this brief note, the MTA notes that final delivery of the R179s has been pushed back a few years, and “increased revenue service fleet requirements” means these cars can’t be retired until 2022, five years later than expected. Maintenance to keep the the ancient rolling stock moving will total $1.1 million next year, $15.9 million 2017, $17.7 million in 2018, and $15.5 million in 2019.
The delay stems from performance issues with Bombardier. The Canada-based manufacture had been, to much fanfare in 2012 from the governor, set to produce these cars in its Plattsburgh, NY plant, but delivery, originally scheduled to begin this year, is not on time. The MTA and Bomardier said to DNA Info that a welding issue is to blame, and New York’s isn’t the only transit agency experiencing trouble with the company. Toronto’s TTC may terminate a billion-dollar contract with Bombardier over delivery delays, and the company is going through some economic turbulence these days.
So what exactly went wrong? With the company remaining silent, it’s hard to say, and it’s not as though they’re new to the game. Bombardier had fulfilled various rolling stock orders throughout the 1980s and 1990s for Metro-North, Transit and the LIRR. In fact, the 1030-car R142 order consists entirely of Bombardier-made rolling stock.
Yet, a closer look at the MTA’s board documents from early 2012 [pdf] reveals some early caution flags. Bombardier’s bid of $599 million for the rolling stock order came in under a bid by an Alstom/Kawaski. In its board materials, the MTA noted a cost savings of around $12.4 million — a total that has been completely wiped away by Bombardier’s late delivery. The bid assessment notes that Bombardier’s technical presentation was “acceptable” but that the ALSKAW bid “ranked higher” in “technical merit.” In other words, ALSKAW was better positioned to deliver on the specs of the R179 order, but Bombardier offered a better price. Since the MTA hadn’t disqualified Bombardier, the company won the contract, and here we are.
Originally, Bombardier was to deliver the test set of the R179s late last year with the remainder split between delivery around now and early 2017. Now, new cars won’t start arriving until 2018, and much to the consternation of regular riders, retirement won’t arrive until early next decade. The R32s, which average only 58,101 miles between breakdowns, will have to keep chugging along until then, and while I hate to draw conclusions on a company that had delivered on promises in the past, I am tempted to say that you get what you pay for. It’s a lesson in low-bid contracts we learn over and over again.
On that note, I’ll leave you tonight with art from one of those regular C train riders who can’t wait for the R32s to be reefed. WNYC’s Jim O’Grady has quite the pen on this one.
— Kate Hinds (@katehinds) August 13, 2015