Archive for Rolling Stock

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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An alternate universe NYC subway train arriving at Columbus Circle on Tuesday night. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

An alternate universe NYC subway train arriving at Columbus Circle on Tuesday night. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

After work last night, I took a trip to my old stomping ground on the Upper West Side to catch Mike LeDonne’s Hammond B3 organ quartet at the jazz club Smoke near 106th and Broadway. It’s been a Tuesday night tradition for over a decade now, and I’d highly recommend it. Usually, I’d take the 1 train from Midtown, but the MTA had a different idea. When the West Side IRT local pulled into Columbus Circle, the train proclaimed itself, oddly enough, a green 10.

A few passengers waiting for the train did a double-take, similar to the surprised looks that fill unsuspecting subway riders’ faces when the Nostalgia Train rolls up, and then, everyone got on. For the transit literati among us, it’s always a treat when a train with an improperly set rollsign shows up because it provides a window to a subway route that never was (and likely never will be). The 10 is just one of those routes.

As is evident from the green 10 bullet, at one point in developing the rollsigns on the R62 and R62A cars, the MTA reserved this route designation for the Lexington Ave. line. The agency never assigned the 10 to a route, but it’s safe to assume it would have served to differentiate today’s 5 trains. Perhaps the 10 could have been used for Nereid Ave.-bound East Side IRT trains.

The 10 isn’t alone as an unused route bullet. The 11 train was reserved for the 7 line. It could have indicated express service, but the MTA went with a diamond 7 instead. Other rollsigns have been known to offer a glimpse at a green 8 or 12, also indicating potential route designations for Lexington Ave. service. There’s a red 13 out there and, of course, the dearly departed 9 train should the West Side need extra route numbers as well.

Ultimately, though, these are a dying breed. When the R62 and R62A rolling stock sets are completely phased out by the end of the 2020s, the IRT rollsigns will go with them. Instead, colored bullets on train cars will go the way of the dodo, and we’ll have what we have today on new cars: bright red lights that don’t allow you to see what train is arriving until it’s nearly in the station. Of course, the IRT’s countdown clocks obviate the need for such a distinction, but I’ve always found something endearingly comforting about the subway bullets. They match the colors of the route lines on the subway map and system signage, and they otherwise give cohesion and character to otherwise anonymous subway cars. An N is a Q at the touch of a button, but the 10 train I rode in is a quirk of human error.

All good things must come to an end, though, and much like the rail fan window, the rollsigns — which look pretty cool when unfurled — will join transit history. As long as we get those open gangway trains sooner rather than later, though, I’ll bid the 10 train, and the 13 and 11 and 8 and 12, a fond farewell.

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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.

After over three decades of transportation work, NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco retired on Friday. (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

I don’t have too much to say here for now about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s week. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I don’t have a particularly high opinion of him, and I think his reactionary response to even consider removing the Times Square pedestrian plazas due to a bunch of half-naked women is very telling. He’s ineffective and doesn’t understand the constituency that put him in charge. I may write more, but check out Twitter for my shorter thoughts. I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t even the Democratic nominee for mayor in 2017.

In Transit news, Friday was New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco’s last day on the job, and earlier this week, he gave an exit interview to amNew York. The takes are short, but Bianco offers some tantalizing tidbits, including this on upcoming subway car design:

The MTA is looking for a car that can last over 40 years and carry many people. “You may be able to fit more by looking at the seating arrangements — if you need to have seats down at all times,” said Bianco. “These are things on our minds as we design cars, and we see the crowds we have. What can we do to get more people on? Can we widen the doors, is that possible? Can we find a way so that people don’t stand near the doors, and people can get in and out? That’s all in design with our engineers.”

To me it sounds as though Bianco is talking about reviving the 2010 flip-seat pilot that went nowhere. That seems like a red herring, and I still don’t understand why the MTA is so resistant to open gangways. I explored this very topic in April and then saw open gangways in action throughout Europe this past summer. It’s a no-brainer really and one the MTA should implement immediately. The MTA is still seeking for a successor to Bianco.

Finally, weekend service changes. After the jump, find out how you can get around this weekend. Read More→

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The first R179s will not be delivered until 2018, four years later than promised. (Rendering via Bomardier)

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.

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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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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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The open gangway of an articulated train in Paris.

I haven’t been to Paris in a while. My one and only trip to the City of Light came in 2001, and even then, I remember riding articulated train sets on the Metro. To a city rat who hadn’t experienced too many other subway systems, these seemingly endless trains were a revelation. They seemed — and were — more spacious than New York’s limited cars and allowed for better passenger flow and more people to ride with a little bit of extra comfort. Why didn’t New York have these, I’ve often wondered.

Over the years, we’ve heard a variety of excuses emanating from any number of U.S. transit agencies. While we have articulated buses, trains with open gangways haven’t yet arrived in the states. Some say that articulated trains can’t handle New York’s curves; others say that it’s a new thing requiring extensive testing. Whatever the reason, we sacrifice capacity and flexibility for the rolling stock we have.

But the MTA seems to be considering articulated trains as they look to the future. In the 20 Year Needs Assessment released this week, articulated make an appearance. Buried in the back as part of the effort to develop a 21st Century system was the following:

As the MTA continues to purchase new buses and subway and commuter rail fleets, it must incorporate state-of-the-art design concepts and technologies to minimize energy consumption, maximize carrying capacity, reduce loading times, and meet the expectation of a tech-savvy generation of new travelers. In particular, consideration should be given to trainsets with open gangways between cars, similar to the design of articulated buses. This will both maximize carrying capacity, and allow passenger to move to less-crowded areas of the train, balancing loading and unloading times at all doors.

The articulated trainsets aren’t arriving with any of the current rolling stock orders. The R179s and R211s won’t feature open gangways. So it’ll likely be until the mid-2020s that we see any such cars hit the rails in New York. By then, the R62 cars currently in use on the 1 and 3 lines will be nearing retirement age, and the 1 in particular would be a prime line for articulated cars as, outside of the old South Ferry station, the curves are essentially non-existent.

So why then don’t we have these open gangways already? Back in 2009, Yonah Freemark tackled the question and received the following response from an MTA spokesman: “MTA New York City Transit had considered an articulated train which was proposed by Kawasaki under the R110A contract. The proposal was, however, rejected by us due to the impact it would have had on the project’s budget and schedule…We may take another look at articulated trains in the future if and when we have a budget for Research and Design for an entirely new subway car.”

Basically, as with anything new, it cost too much. But now the MTA has a twenty-year plan and a vision for future train sets. If the tunnels can handle them, the next-gen rolling stock should have open gangways. It’s a minor improvement that can make a dent in reducing overcrowding and improving ease of movement in crowded subway cars.

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Every year for special occasions — baseball playoffs, the holiday season — the MTA dusts off its old rolling stock and sends the Nostalgia Train out for a ride. It’s quite a trip to journey on these subway cars, some as old as 100 years, with their wicker seats, ceiling fans and deafeningly loud clanking. But what if these trains ran everyday? The charm would wear off pretty quickly.

Well, down in Argentina, the Subte sill runs original 1913 rolling stock on its A line, but those cars are set to be retired today, finally. These 90 Belgian-made cars still carry over 150,000 passengers a day, but Subte and Buenos Aires officials have finally decided that these trains cost too much to maintain and repair. Somehow, though, the decision is not without controversy as Buenos Aires politicians have called upon Subte to keep the cars rolling past the Underground’s 100th anniversary. And to think New Yorkers complain about the R32s still in service on the C train.

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Transit’s R32s are undergoing their final rehabs before the end of the line arrives in a few years. (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Patrick Cashin)

The MTA’s R32s are a holdover from the Swingin’ 60s. Budd’s Brightliners made their debuts in 1964 and have been rolling along for nearly 50 years. Today, these cars aren’t holding up so well. They have the lowest mean distance between failures, and regular riders on the A, C and E come to fear their air conditioners in the summer. When they debuted, they had ceiling fans, but the 48-year-old cars underwent some fairly comprehensive reworking about twenty years ago.

Last year, the MTA announced another six years for the R32s. Because of structural problems with the R44s, Transit had reprioritize rolling stock replacement, and the R179s would likely be on hold until 2017. To ease the end of life, though, Transit will invest some $25 million into these train cars, overhauling the remaining 222 cars over the next few months.

On Friday, with the rehab moving along and some photos floating around, Transit announced some details concerning the investment. The agency is calling the work a “limited-scope maintenance makeover.” The goal is to improve performance and reliability as we await the R179s, now slated to start arriving in 2014. As the R32s generally make it just over 57,000 miles between failures as opposed to a fleet-wide average of over 171,000 miles, anything to improve service will be welcome for IND riders.

“The work currently being performed on these cars will help increase customer comfort and insure service reliability until their replacements arrive,” Carmen Bianco, Senior Vice President of the Department of Subways said in a statement.

For $25 million, the MTA is going to upgrade numerous car components and systems including air brakes, auxiliary electric, car body, couplers, car body hoses, door systems and propulsion systems. Vandalized windows — scratchiti is a hallmark of these cars — will be replaced as well. Furthermore, the AC/HVAC systems will be improved in advance of next summer. Perhaps the summer switch will go smoother in the remaining few years.

Despite promises from the MTA of a 2014 arrival date for the R179s, the truth is that only the initial models will arrive then. Tests are set for the end of that year with more cars arriving beginning in 2015. Some of these R32s will have to last until 2017, a whopping 53 years after they made their New York City debut. It’s hard to believe that some of the system’s rolling stock actually predates the MTA itself, but there you go.

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