Search Results for "open gangway"

Jan
28

Open gangway cars heading to NYC as MTA approves R211 contract

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The first part of the R211 contract will feature only 20 open gangway cars, but the design will arrive in New YOrk City soon. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

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.

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Dec
18

R211 models show the promise, and lost opportunity, of open gangways

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The R211 model was on display at 34th St. – Hudson Yards earlier this month. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Over the past two decades, the MTA has engaged in a multi-billion-dollar effort to upgrade its rolling stock. Since 1999, the agency has welcomed over 3200 new subway cars and, once the R179’s testing issues are resolved, an additional 300 are on the way. The agency is also on the verge of awarding a contract for the R211, an order with an additional 1025 new cars that are expected to arrive early next decade. By the time the R211s are delivered, nearly two thirds of the MTA’s subway cars will be a part of the so-called New Technology Train program that launched with the R142s in 1999, and very few of them will feature open gangways, a standard design element throughout the world.

The MTA, as many of my long-term readers know, has had a touchy relationship with the idea of open gangways. Transit experts and advocates have long bemoaned the agency’s reluctance to embrace the design standard, and the agency has hid behind New York City Exceptionalism, alleging that engineering difficulties make the idea impossible to implement. That London has managed to do so on old routes with tight curves should lay bare this lie, and as the MTA’s own internal assessment reports have recently called for open gangway designs, the MTA has determined that its day of reckoning will come way or another.

The benefits of open gangways are obvious: open-ended cars can increase passenger flow and capacity by up to ten percent. At a time when our subway system is strained to meet passenger demand, open gangways offer up a huge boost in space without the need to run more frequent service. It’s practically a free way to provide more service with the only costs being engineering and design work that will pay off over the 40- or 50-year life of new rolling stock.

Future generations of MTA rolling stock will feature touch-screen subway maps, perhaps with the return of the Massimo Vignelli subway map. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

We know that open gangways are on the horizon. As part of Gov. Cuomo’s plan to not really save the subway system, the MTA unveiled cars with open gangways last year and promised that “up to 750 cars” of the R211 order could include open gangways. The R211 contract will include a ten-car open gangway pilot, and the option for 740 more cars is contingent upon the pilot passing its tests. The contract hasn’t been bid out yet (though Bombardier has already been disqualified), and the test cars won’t arrive until 2020. But recently, the MTA offered up a tour of a model of the planned open gangway cars.

The R211s feature doorway widths of 58 inches. The MTA believes the wider boarding space will improve passenger flow. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The models were two halves of a subway car and were on display in the voluminous mezzanine at 34th Street-Hudson Yards earlier this month. I had an opportunity to stop by to explore the models, and my photos are below. You can find them on my Instagram page as well. For anyone who has ridden new rolling stock around the world, the models were a familiar glimpse at now-standard technology. The trains come with wider doors for easier boarding (though the doors are still a few inches narrower than London’s current standard), flip seats to fit more standing passengers, open gangways and some technological features such as touch-screen maps, LED indicators on doorways, and upgrades to the FIND displays. Open doors are still be stored internal to the rail car wall so windows are much smaller than they are in Europe, but otherwise, these strike me as what NYC subway cars should have been for the past 10-15 years.

In the end, the MTA spend billions on at least 3500 cars that could have stored far more people. As we look forward to the new design, the R211s are symbolic of a loss opportunity sacrificed at the altar of NYC stubbornness and exceptionalism. Just because open gangways weren’t invented here doesn’t mean they can’t work.

Click through for a few more images of the R211 models. Read More→

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Aug
23

Link: The Times heads to Toronto to see some open gangways

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Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

New NYC subway cars will feature open gangways and belly-aching over the design is a symptom of New York exceptionalism.

A few weeks ago, New Yorkers caught their first real collective glimpse of the MTA’s next-generation rolling stock. Pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of his plan to bring more customer-facing initiatives to the forefront, the renderings were notable not only for their new color scheme but also for the open gangways, an accordion-like design that essentially creates one super-long subway by opening up the passageways between individual cars. It’s a standard design the world over that can provide capacity increases by up to 10 percent, but U.S. transit agencies have been notably slow to adopt the design.

With word of open gangways heading New York’s way, the same old voices from people who feel that what works elsewhere can’t work in New York have risen in unity to bemoan our articulated future. A sampling of recent comments on The Times website provides a litany of these complaints. What about noises from buskers? Showtime crews? Panhandlers? Stinky residents of the subways? Broken air conditioners? How will the special butterflies of New York City survive? To do some myth-busting, Emma Fitzsimmons of The Times journeyed to the closest spot with open gangway cars and filed a report from Toronto, where the new design is very popular. As to the concerns raised by New Yorkers, Toronto officials were dismissive.

Some riders in New York have raised concerns that regular subway annoyances — from “showtime” dancers to misbehaving riders — might now become the whole train’s problem, instead of being contained to one car. Andy Byford, the chief executive of the Toronto Transit Commission and an enthusiastic evangelist for improving the system, dismissed those fears, saying riders could easily escape unpleasant situations in the new cars. “You’re not then trapped in a single carriage,” Mr. Byford said from his office atop the Davisville station north of downtown Toronto. “You can get up and move.”

If a rider urinates or vomits, someone could simply walk away, rather than waiting for a station and darting from one car to another…One downside is that if a train has a technical problem, workers must remove the entire six-car train from service, Mr. Byford said, instead of separating a pair of cars and replacing them. But over all, he said, the benefits have outweighed the drawbacks…

American transit officials have had reservations about whether the design could work on the nation’s aging subways and whether ridership levels warrant the expense of switching to the new cars, said Randy Clarke, a safety and operations expert at the American Public Transportation Association. In Boston, subway officials considered the idea for new cars on two lines but decided against it. Officials in New York have worked with engineering consultants on the plans and are confident the design is feasible, even though the subway is an older system, Ms. Hakim said.

In Toronto, the best sign of the cars’ popularity is that riders whose lines do not have the trains are pleading for them. Sygmund Gaskin, 45, said he wished the older trains on his Bloor-Danforth Line could be replaced with the new cars. “I don’t know why it takes so long to get them for this line,” he said. “How come we don’t have them here as well?”

Of course, common-sense reporting from cities in which these cars have been embraced for years hasn’t persuaded the critics. The comments on Fitzsimmons’ article is just the surface of “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome. Others even proclaim New York to be just too mean-spirited for open gangways to work here. Some people just won’t believe it until they see, but thankfully, they’ll be seeing it soon enough.

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Jul
19

Open gangways, redesigned subway cars headline Cuomo’s announcement of work in progress

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Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a funny relationship with the MTA. When the agency has good news that’s bound to grab headlines — such as fancy renderings of the next generation of rolling stock — he’s front and center with a press conference at the Transit Museum, his new favorite spot. When the news is bad, it’s everyone else’s responsibility to get the word out. That is, of course, his prerogative as the state’s chief executive, but that dynamic was on display again on Monday during Cuomo’s unveiling of the new designs.

The event was a sudden one, announced early on Monday morning during a period of the summer usually devoid of transit news. And once we drill down on the news, the developments came via the renderings rather than the initiatives. The announcement, a welcome one to be sure, served as a follow-up to both previous Cuomo news and long-standing MTA initiatives. Yet, for all of my skepticism, Cuomo deserves some credit as he’s pushing the MTA to move faster than the agency is used to moving, and riders should benefit.

Monday’s press conference focused around Cuomo’s plan to close 31 stations for speedier renovation work and the MTA’s plan to bring open gangway rolling stock to the New York City subway. The news isn’t new, but the renderings are. And they admittedly look good.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna's design for the new subway cars.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna’s design for the new subway cars.

These projects are part of the $27 billion five-year capital plan on which Cuomo finally focused earlier this year, and he’s taking his valedictory lap while the going is good. “New York deserves a world-class transportation network, worthy of its role as the heartbeat of the 21st century economy,” he said. “The MTA design team developed a bold and visionary reimagining of the quintessential commuter experience, incorporating best practices from global transit systems, and focusing on our core mission to renew, enhance and expand. We are going to do more than renovate; we are bringing subway stations to a higher standard than ever before, and the new vision for subway cars will increase capacity and reduce overcrowding and delays.”

That last element is key. At a time when upgrading the signal system to accommodate more trains will take years or decades, changing the design of the New York City subway cars to bring it in line with international standards can improve capacity by around 8-10 percent without much additional expense. After all, rolling stock replacement is part of the MTA’s regular investment cycle, and adding open gangways represents a negligible cost in excess of the money spent on a new cars.

Monday’s announcement came couched in some interesting language. The MTA has the option to add “up to 750” cars with open gangways, but the plans are still as they were a few months ago. As part of the upcoming R-211 contract, the agency is going to order a 10-car pilot to test open gangways. If this test is successful, the agency can order an additional 740 cars with open gangways. This was the plan in January, and it remains the plan now. But the bidding will start soon as Cuomo puts pressure on the agency to speed up the procurement process. Still, it’s my understanding the first open gangways won’t arrive for 40 months or so, and if the contract is awarded before the end of the year, it’ll still be 2020 before the prototypes arrive.

Cuomo deserves praise for moving this process along, but the MTA has been working on this for years. It’s an important distinction to make. Meanwhile, in addition to open gangways, the cars will come with improved grab bars and doorways that are 58 inches wide instead of 50 inches. The colors incorporate the state’s blue and gold motif and align with the buses Cuomo has been pushing. Flip seats (that likely will always remain down), dynamic video screens and USB charging ports (always) are features of the new cars as well. The properly-hued subway bullets are making their triumphant return as well, a welcome part of the new design. If anything, now, the New York City subways will be aligned with international design standards, and the renderings produced by Antenna, the company behind the WMATA’ss 7000 series rolling stock and the LinkNYC kiosks, did a great job.

The design-build subway stations will include numerous upgrades to enhance the passenger experience.

The design-build subway stations will include numerous upgrades to enhance the passenger experience.

Meanwhile, we have a better idea of the new station design as well. As part of the MTA’s effort to speed up work, the agency is implementing a design-build process at 31 stations that were, not coincidentally, up for renovation. The new look includes better lighting and wayfinding, countdown clocks (somehow on the B division), new floor materials and, of course, USB charging ports. Everything in 2016 must have USB charging ports. The first three stations to get this treatment are Prospect Ave., Bay Ridge Ave. and 53rd St. along the BMT’s 4th Ave. line and work should begin either by the end of the year or early in 2017. As the renderings show, it’s a modern look for the MTA’s subway stations which are brighter and seemingly friendlier.

Redesigned station entrances will feature dynamic screens that provide updated subway service status messages.

Redesigned station entrances will feature dynamic screens that provide updated subway service status messages.

This is all good news and should be accepted as good news. It’s easy to focus on the MTA’s big picture problems, but at the same time, constant investment in the state of good repair of the infrastructure involves well designed rolling stock and technologically advanced stations. The open gangways help with capacity and delays caused by crowded trains; the stations create a more welcoming environment. The MTA needs to continue to grow and invest in the long-term less sexy projects that will truly expand transit, but if Cuomo wants to focus on the MTA, let’s let him.

As a closing note, it was interesting to hear the Governor speak about his renewed emphasis on transit. He told one story about his family. ““My daughters were home for the weekend,” he said. “They came up to Westchester, and I got the lecture about the MTA.” Trains were too crowded, and they wanted dad, who’s in charge of the MTA, to do something about it. But there’s another side to this as well, as Dana Rubinstein related. When pressed on the renewed focus on transit investment, he responded with a tautology. There is a new emphasis on the MTA “because there is a new emphasis on the MTA.” And that’s where we are right now.

Jan
25

A first glimpse at the MTA’s plans for an open gangway prototype

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The MTA released a conceptual rendering of the open gangway prototype the agency plans to include in the R211 rolling stock order.

The MTA released a conceptual rendering of the open gangway prototype the agency plans to include in the R211 rolling stock order.

As the MTA struggles to expand subway capacity to meet current ridership demands, the idea of rolling stock design has come under scrutiny. A few years ago, the MTA, to the public’s dismay, floated the idea of making a certain number of cars per train seatless during rush hour, but that didn’t go far. Another proposal, which is standard design in a number of international cities, is now getting its day in the sun. That idea is of course open gangways, and in MTA Board materials released this weekend, we now have a glimpse of what the MTA is envisioning for their prototype.

Open gangways are a familiar sight to international travelers, and in fact, one needs to travel no farther than Montreal or Toronto to experience this rolling stock design. The idea is simple: By sealing in and opening up the space in between cars, open gangways create freedom of movement and more space for passengers. It’s a safer design that eliminates the problems of isolated subway or metro cars and can increase capacity by around 8-10 percent per subway train. That we do not have them already, MTA sources have told me, is a mix of agency fears at doing something viewed by New Yorkers as “different” even if it exists elsewhere and some manageable engineering concerns about these types of cars’ ability to handle tight curves.

A few weeks ago, I explored how the 2015-2019 Capital Plan features an open gangway prototype order. For the upcoming R211 rolling stock, 10 cars out of 950 will include an open gangway design so the MTA can test this feature for future use. It’s a disappointingly modest part of a rolling stock order expected to by in service until the 2060s or 2070s. But hold that thought.

This weekend, the MTA released the rendering you see above. Intriguingly, the image suggests a June 4, 2013 creation date. So clearly the agency has been bandying this idea about for a few years. That it is taking so long to come to fruition, even on a pilot basis, is indicative of the MTA’s hesitant approach to ideas that are “new” to New York. (Considering how early 20th century subway cars featured open gangways, we could argue the semantics of whether these designs are actually new to New York for hours. Either way, they are new to the MTA in a post-1968 world.)

In accompanying materials [pdf], the MTA simply notes that the objectives for the $2.3 billion R211 order includes expanding capacity through better design. It’s not clear if, when the prototypes are successful, the agency could retrofit the R211s for additional open gangway train sets or if the MTA could amend an order in progress. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this plan during the committee meetings on Monday, but I hope this option exists. Otherwise, having around 1 percent of one rolling stock model feature open gangways won’t do much for the MTA’s capacity concerns.

And therein lies the rub. If the MTA receives these open gangway cars in the early 2020s and determines the design is feasible for many subway lines, the window for system-wide adaption will have closed for decades. The agency brags that 56 percent of its fleet is, at most, 15 years old, and the upcoming orders — the delayed R179s, the R188s, the rest of the R211s — aren’t open gangway train sets. Thus, the next order of cars that could be all open gangways won’t arrive until the late 2020s, and the MTA’s full complement of subway cars wouldn’t have these open gangways until the mid-2070s. By then, I hope another phase or two of the Second Ave. Subway is open as well. A slow approach to seemingly-innovative designs that are de rigueur elsewhere will get us nowhere.

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Dec
02

New Capital Plan set to include open gangway prototype order

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Open gangways on the Berlin U-Bahn's U6. These so-called großprofil cars are spacious, and the design does wonders for passenger flow and crowding.

A photo posted by Second Ave. Sagas (@secondavesagas) on

When the MTA released its revised capital plan earlier this fall, a few tidbits caught my eye. Although I mentioned them via the Second Ave. Sagas Twitter account, I failed to write the follow-up posts. So let’s revisit these items, starting today with the promise open gangways.

The concept of rolling stock with open gangways — articulated train sets — is one of those not-in-New York ideas we’ve come to know and warily examine over the years. The MTA has issued numerous excuses — tight curves, safety concerns that were valid 25 or 30 years ago — that seem to ring hollow, and every now and then, the agency nods at the idea of five-car sets with open walkways. The last serious consideration came in 2013 when the MTA’s 20-year needs document acknowledged the benefits of rolling stock with open gangways.

For the MTA, a design with open gangways is a long overdue need. It’s an easy way to boost subway capacity by, as we explored earlier this year, around 8-10 percent per subway train without increasing the frequency of a line, and as anyone who’s ridden the rails at rush hour lately can attest to, any capacity increase would help. So what’s the plan? It is, of course, a pilot.

According to the revised MTA 2015-2019 capital plan, the agency would purchase 10 open-gangway prototype cars with the $52.4 million expenditure allocated for 2016. For now, these prototypes are lumped in with the R-211 order that is supposed to start replacing the R46s over the next few years. It’s not yet clear where the MTA would run the open gangway prototype cars, how these cars would be designed or what the future holds for open gangways. When I last asked MTA officials about such a design, they told me that certain curves in Lower Manhattan may preclude running rolling stock with open gangways on all lines but that the MTA is committed to testing and, if possible, implementing a design with open gangways in the future.

Whenever this topic comes up, the usual complaints and critiques arise. In a Times article in 2013, the generation that remembers the Bad Old Days worried about crime. “Remember the time when we were in the high-crime era and gangs were roaming through the trains?” MTA Board member Andrew Albert said to Matt Flegenheimer. “Everybody loved the locked end doors.” Subway crime, of course, is at all-time lows and shows no signs of any meaningful increase. It ain’t the 1980s any longer.

Meanwhile, others have complained about disruptive buskers and the odors from homeless subway residents rendering half a train inhospitable rather than just one subway car. To this, I say it is New York exceptionalism at its finest, and we are not the special butterflies some would have us believe we are. These open gangways were standard operating procedure on the train lines I experienced in Berlin, Stockholm and Paris this past summer, and they worked great. Passengers could spread out through multiple subway cars, and the buskers moved on. Solving the homeless problem also shouldn’t prevent us from solving the more important capacity crunch, and as rolling stock comes up for replacement, eking out additional space via efficient design should be a priority.

So do we dare get our hopes up? Only 10 of the next 950 cars the MTA plans to order through the next capital plan will feature open gangways, and those that come online over the next few years will be expected to last another four or five decades. In other words, it’ll be a while before articulated train sets become standard. But this is a start, and a start is more than what we’ve had in the past.

Apr
07

Revisiting open gangways as a solution to NYC’s capacity problems

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The open gangway of an articulated train in Paris.

While visiting Montreal last year — a city on the same landmass as ours — I had the opportunity to enjoy a few subway rides on the city’s rubber-tired Metro. The trains had a special sound to it, generally quieter than the screech of New York’s subways, and the trainsets were a revelation as well. The concept of open gangways — articulated subway cars with no doors or gaps between cars — has filtered through the United States, but it is alive and well in Montreal, lending more capacity to a modest Metro.

In New York City, where capacity problems are obvious every morning, every evening and every weekend, the MTA’s response has been halting and insufficient. As I wrote recently, the agency is ill prepared to deal with the crowds today and hasn’t adequate prepared for tomorrow. Even a fully funded 2015-2019 capital plan won’t do much to solve the subway’s capacity crunch, and although the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway is a start, by itself, it won’t be the answer.

There are incremental solutions though, and open gangways are an easy one. London, in fact, has found that open gangways could increase train capacity by ten percent alone. The MTA hasn’t really dabbled with open gangways but has acknowledged their existence. The 2013 Twenty-Year Needs Assessment identified open gangways as a potential innovation on the horizon, and transit advocates noted that the MTA is one of the largest system in the world without such cars. Could this be yet another case of New York exceptionalism? It certainly seems so.

Over at The Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark wonders why American transit agencies have ignored open gangways. Looking at available data, Freemark finds that nearly every transit agency except those in the United States have embraced this type of rolling stock, and he doesn’t understand why. He writes of global trends and New York, in particular:

Open gangways provide a number of advantages: One, they expand capacity by allowing riders to use the space that typically sits empty between cars. This added capacity means that a metro line can carry more people with trains of the same length. Two, it allows passengers to redistribute themselves throughout the train while the vehicle is moving, reducing problems associated with many people boarding in the same doorway, such as slow exiting times and poorly distributed standees. Three, it increases safety at times of low ridership by increasing the number of “eyes” in the train. There are no obvious downsides…

[The MTA], like others around the country, has the opportunity to address some of its problems through the purchase of these trains. On the congested Lexington Avenue Line…about 45.6 feet of each train’s 513.3-foot length is used up by the empty four feet between each car and the 10 feet reserved for the cabs at the center of the trains. That means that, if the Lexington Avenue Line were transitioned to trains with open gangways, the line could gain almost an entire car-length of capacity on every train. That’s practically as much relief as the Second Avenue Subway will provide—at the cost of trains that would be purchased anyway…

Open gangways are hardly the end-all be-all of transit operations. They won’t guarantee better service or necessarily attract more riders. And they may not be able to resolve some issues, such as the fact that Washington’s Metro runs trains of different car lengths on each line. But the fact that every U.S. transit agency—with the exception of Honolulu’s—has failed to adopt to this trend and has no plans to change, raises important questions. Just how much are the management of these transit agencies isolating themselves from world best practice? This is hardly an isolated case. The fact that transit agencies around the world are transitioning infrequent suburban rail operations into frequent regional rail services seems to be lost on most U.S. commuter rail agencies.

Freemark notes as well his own skepticism that “this technology is just ‘not possible’ on historic U.S. systems,” and his is a skepticism I share. That it has worked everywhere else is a clear sign that whatever barriers to implementation exist in the United States are those set up by our own agencies’ failures rather than by something unique to this country.

For its part, the MTA has claimed developing a new subway car would cost too much in design spending, but as we reach a capacity crisis, what’s the alternative? If it takes 10 years and billions of dollars just to build a new subway stop, the next rolling stock purchases should all have open gangways. At this point, though, we won’t see such designs in New York City for at least ten years, if at all, and that’s just a failure of problem solving at a time when we need executives to be thinking outside the (American) box.

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Oct
21

Another look at the MTA and open gangways

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The open gangway of a Metro train in Paris.

When the MTA released its 20 Year Needs Assessment report earlier this month, I took a closer look at the paragraph calling for open gangways in the next-generation subway car design. By copying the design of articulated buses and essentially creating one long subway car that encourages passenger flow, the MTA believes this design — in use the world over — would “maximize carrying capacity” while “balancing loading and unloading times at all doors.”

As this is New York, where, if we didn’t invent it here, we have to study it to death, the MTA has cautioned that open gangways aren’t on the horizon any time soon. The R211s, the next new rolling stock order, won’t have them, and it’s likely that open gangways wouldn’t be considered until the mid-2020s when the cars put into use in the mid-1980s are due for replacement. Still, that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the novelty of this Shiny New Thing, and in The Times today, Matt Flegenheimer teases out a story on subway cars.

By and large, The Times piece rehashes the promise of the 20 Year Needs Assessment. The MTA, throwing some cold water on this fire, warns that “any major change require[s] extensive review,” and the usual suspects worry about passenger safety concerns more valid 30 years ago. “Remember the time when we were in the high-crime era and gangs were roaming through the trains?” Andrew Albert, MTA Board member, said to The Times. “Everybody loved the locked end doors.”

But there are some lessons from Toronto, a close neighbor that enjoys the open gangway designs:

Elsewhere, the trains have proved largely successful. Brad Ross, a spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission, which began using an “open gangway” model two years ago, said capacity had increased by 8 percent to 10 percent.

In the model’s early months, Mr. Ross said, passengers would often let trains with traditional cars pass them by, preferring the features — or at least the novelty — of the new ones.

But there have been pitfalls. Mr. Ross said that young children have been disappointed that the conductor cab occupies the entire width of a car, precluding the pastime of peering into the tunnel from a front window. “An amusement ride no more,” he said.

Young children and old railfan window watchers alike have long since grown accustomed to the full-width conductor cabs in New York City as that design was introduced to the subways years ago. But the capacity increases are alluring. For nothing more than the cost of a new order of rolling stock and an extensive study of how these cars would work in New York, the MTA can boost train capacity significantly. Open gangways are by far the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to increase capacity, and for that reason alone the MTA should be aggressive in pursuing this design.

As an RPA official noted to The Times, New York City is well behind the curve, and it’s time to catch up. “We’re one of the largest systems in the world that doesn’t do it,” Richard Barone, the RPA’s director of transportation programs, said. “Our trains don’t function right now to allow people to circulate.”

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Jun
04

As politics loom, a dive into the details of the Byford subway rescue plan

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With Byford’s blueprint in hand, will Andrew Cuomo save the subways?

Last week was an odd one for the Andy Byford subway rescue plan. Nearly immediately after its release, it became clear that Andrew Cuomo, as I wrote last week, didn’t know how to respond to the plan he essentially commissioned. He brought in Byford and personally interviewed him for the job with the idea that this Andy would fix the subways, but when the plan he came out, Andy C. punted. This move seemingly took everyone by surprise, but considering how Cuomo has embraced transit over the years, perhaps we should have expected it all along.

The politics of the moment, however, found a way to intervene, and the dynamics of the Democratic primary reared its head late last week. Shortly before Cynthia Nixon announced a kitchen-sink plan to fix the MTA — endorsing the Byford plan while calling for both congestion pricing and a Bill de Blasio-inspired millionaires’ tax to fund transit — Cuomo decided the plan he commissioned was one worth endorsing. Toward the end of last week, he made the call for a congestion pricing plan to fund the Byford proposal to save the subway. You can (and should) read Emma Fitzsimmons’ coverage in The Times. The question now is whether Cuomo will follow through, but since the Byford plan is a preview of the Transit asks for the next two MTA Five-Year Capital Plans, we won’t know for another year or so if Cuomo is serious.

The politics are the politics are the politics. After a while, having to convince the governor of New York to support the economic lifeblood of the largest city in the state gets exhaustingly tiresome. The governor doesn’t appreciate the transit system, and the person who should be New York City’s biggest champion thinks he’s the mayor of some suburban town of ten thousand drivers. Sometimes, I can’t help but thrown my hands up in disgust at the whole thing, but right now, that’s neither here nor there. The politics will play out in the coming months, and forces will likely align behind the bulk, if not all, of Byford’s plan. Which brings me in a somewhat roundabout way to a question: What exactly is in Byford’s plan? Though I wrote about it last week, I haven’t delved into the details so let’s do that.

In a sense, as I’ve mentioned, the plan is a preview of things to come. Byford accelerated the 40-year plan to replace the bulk of the subway signal system and will instead do it in ten years. He wants modernized interlockings and over 300 stations to be brought to a state of good repair. He wants a new fare payment system, 130 new ADA-compliant stations, over 3600 new subway cars (which I hope will include open gangways) and nearly 5000 new buses (which I hope all use clean-air technology). “We propose doing in 10 years what was
previously scheduled to take more than 40, including major progress in the first 5 years,” Byford said. “This means lines that are currently capacity-constrained will be able to carry more people, more smoothly and reliably.”

Visually, the plan looks like this:

I’m not quite sure what happens with the parts of subway lines that aren’t included in the ten-year upgrade approach. Do these non-modernized segments act as chokepoints that still limit the number of trains subway lines can accommodate? If, for instance, the 1 line between Van Cortlandt Park and 96th St. isn’t modernized while the remainder to South Ferry is, can the MTA run additional trains? And what of, for instance, the F between York St. and Church Ave.? Or the entirety of J train?

The plan isn’t without pain, and the pain is the key issue. The MTA considered and dismissed time-barred full-line shutdowns to accommodate the work and plans to maintain weekday train service. But Byford warns that “continuous night and weekend closures” may last for up to 2.5 years per line with both express and local service shutdown where applicable. What the plan does not detail is how exactly the work will go from taking 40 years to taking 10 or whether costs will fall in line with even the upper bounds of international standards rather than current spending which far exceeds that of any other comparable transit system.

Beyond the signal upgrades and CBTC installation, the rest of the plan does what the MTA should be doing but on an aggressively fast schedule. More stations renovated in shorter time frames. More ADA and other accessibility upgrades. Better management (which may be short for cleaning house). Actually delivering a new fare payment system. Route overhauls “to reduce reliance on critical interlockings.” It’s all what the MTA should have been doing for decades.

You can read through the plan document as a PDF right here. It’s a quick read, and it’s a blueprint for the future. Publishing it was the easy first step though, and the harder part is someone else’s political lift. That, as The Times’ editorial board writes today, is the hard part. “Mr. Byford’s plan asks New Yorkers to make sacrifices. They will have to pay more in taxes and fees and endure night and weekend subway shutdowns as workers fix lines and stations. But most people would be willing to bear that pain for a safer and more reliable transit system,” the editorial notes. “What is less clear is whether New York’s elected leaders can summon the necessary political will to turn this plan into reality. It was heartening to see Mr. Cuomo belatedly embrace Mr. Byford’s plan last week, but he has to back up his words with action. Because Mr. Byford is right: New Yorkers can’t wait 50 years for a modern transit system.”

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Dec
10

Testing woes plague Bombardier’s faulty R179 cars

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The R179 out on its first day of passenger service! #R179 #NewTrain

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What happens if the MTA spends $600 million on 300 new subway cars and they don’t work? It’s a crazy question but, in this topsy turvy world of 2017, one with which the MTA is currently grappling as Bombardier’s R179s are not passing their field tests. The MTA has 26 cars on hand for testing, and they just don’t work.

It’s been a while, thanks to my sparse posting schedule, since we’ve checked in on the R179 order, but we are no stranger to the R179’s issues. This order are supposed to replace the R42s and R32s, some of the MTA’s oldest rolling stock, and provide new cars for the J, Z and C lines. But the contract was plagued with problems from the start. Bombardier underbid other companies by nearly $60 million, but a joint venture between Alstom and Kawasaki warned the MTA against relying on Bombardier’s bid. They were right, and in 2015, we learned that delays in delivery due to mysterious production issues would cost the MTA at least $50 million.

The problem has gotten worse since then, as Dan Rivoli in the Daily News details in his latest on R179 testing issues.

The new car failed its first major test carrying passengers on the J line in Brooklyn and Queens. In fact, eight-car test trains were pulled from the tracks three times in less than two weeks since its Nov. 19 debut — dumping riders onto station platforms along the way. The third mishap for the model forced the MTA to suspend the 30-day passenger test cycle for nearly a week, threatening to further delay the delivery of train cars from Bombardier that is already two years behind schedule.

While MTA officials at the time believed it was a solid choice to award Montreal-based Bombardier a $600 million, 300-car contract in March 2012, it has proven to be a manufacturing mess from the beginning. Instead of wrapping up the contract by January 2017, it is now set to be complete by December 2018. Bombardier is now barred from bidding on a $3 billion contract for a future model set to be delivered by 2023. “These cars aren’t doing real well and we have a problem,” MTA board member Andrew Albert said.

Here’s what sidelined the R179 test train, a model destined for the lettered lines:

  • Nov. 19 — The train operator’s console erroneously indicated a door was open, when it was actually closed. Earlier that day, the emergency brakes kicked in when a bucket fell onto the tracks from the 121st St. station platform in Richmond Hill, Queens.
  • Nov. 27 — The test train leaving the Sutphin Blvd. station in Jamaica, Queens, lost motor power as it trudged uphill at half speed over a standard gap between train equipment and the third rail.
  • Nov. 30 — A red light indicating a problem with a door lit up in yet another train car, though the door was closed on Gates Ave. in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

The tests, Rivoli reports, were resumed this past week, and MTA officials hedged on short-term success. It’s not quite what you want to hear when it comes to rolling stock that’s supposed to be around for another 40 or 50 years. “The issues that have been identified are rectifiable and they have been, which is why the testing has resumed,” Phil Eng, NYC Transit’s interim president, said. “We are cautiously optimistic.”

It’s impossible to read this as anything other than indictment of the MTA’s low-bid standards. The agency is forced to accept the lowest qualified bid, and although Bombardier’s bid lost to the Alstom/Kawasaki JV on technical merit, it was deemed good enough at the time. “Good enough at the time” it seems isn’t good enough now, and the MTA has already disqualified Bombardier from even submitting a bid for the upcoming R211s (more on those and open gangways soon). Will the MTA have an internal reckoning with respect to its bidding process? Can we count on these new cars to provide a better ride for passengers used to daily trips on the C line’s own version of the Nostalgia Train?

Bouncing Bombardier from the pool of eligible contractors if a good start, but MTA officials are mum on anything else. Joe Lhota, who was in charge of the MTA when Bomardier on the contract, just wanted to look forward. “What’s important now is not rehashing the past,” he said to The Daily News, “and instead focusing on getting these cars delivered and on the rails for our riders.” For a beleaguered MTA, the R179s have been a worst-case scenario so far as the bad news grows worse.

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