A few weeks ago, I previewed the MTA’s next-generation rolling stock. The R211s will feature wider doors and, at some point, open gangways, a design standard throughout the world. As I mentioned in December, though the MTA deserves praise for bringing an open-end car design to New York City, by delaying the arrival of the technology for so many years, the MTA sacrificed an 8-10 percent increase in capacity for decades. Cars that were purchased over the past ten years could have featured open gangways but did not, and these cars won’t be retired for another 40-50 years. The embrace of open gangways with the R211 order is a bittersweet moment to say the least, and one that still may not arrive.
Last week, the MTA Board approved a massive purchase for new rolling stock. The MTA is going to spend over $1.4 billion on 535 new cars, 20 of which will feature the open gangway design. Kawaski will fulfill this contract, and the first part will feature rolling stock that costs $2.7 million per car, a number far out of line with international standards. As an example, London paid over $1 million less per car for its recent purchase of open-ended S7 and S8 cars for the the Metropolitan, District, Hammersmith & City, and Circle lines.
The MTA’s new contract becomes somewhat more palatable if the future options are exercised. Kawasaki and the MTA agreed to an extension of $1.3 billion for 640 open gangway cars and an additional $913 million for 437 cars — or options for around $2 million per car with some adjustments for inflation. The contract, the MTA says, is “fair and reasonable,” and delivery of the open gangway prototypes is expected within 30 months, a very aggressive timeline for a new rolling stock contract.
“It is imperative that we provide a first-in-class subway car that can live up to the rigor and expectations of New Yorkers,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said in a statement. “As part of our commitment to modernize the subway system, we have expanded and accelerated this contract to provide more reliable, more comfortable train cars that are easier to board and exit and provide more useful real-time information to riders.”
With or without open gangways, the new cars will feature 58-inch wide door widths that are eight inches wider than current cars. This new width should permit faster boardings, but the trains still feature enclosed doors so window space will be reduced. All R211s will be CBTC-compatible so at some point in the next few decades, the MTA will be able to provide more service. When that reality will emerge remains to be seen, but for now, new cars with open gangways are on the way. That is very much good news for New York City even if it is eight or ten years too late.