Archive for Rolling Stock

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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The always-vigilant Dana Rubinstein has an interesting bit for the rolling stock fans among us who wish to plan ahead: When CBTC is finally ready for implementation along the Flushing Line, the 7 will be trading rolling stock with the East Side IRT. The deets:

By 2016, the year that the M.T.A. hopes to complete installation of a modern signaling system along the 7 line, the M.T.A. will have swapped out the line’s cars for newer ones from the Lexington Avenue line, Capital has learned.

Some Lexington Avenue riders, meanwhile, will get stuck with the old 7 train cars. (The newest 7 cars have been in use for about 25 years.) The M.T.A. has yet to determine which of the three Lexington Avenue lines—the 4, 5, or 6—will be affected.

“Sometime prior to when it is turned on in 2016, you will start seeing the cars on the 7 move to the Lex and the cars on the Lex move to the 7,” confirmed Adam Lisberg, a spokesman for the M.T.A.

Essentially, the R62As, which date from the mid-to-late 1980s, aren’t equipped for CBTC while the R142s are. So the MTA will swap rolling stock — and hopefully update the static FIND signs in the R142s — when the time is ripe. That time, of course, isn’t for another four years so I don’t think East Side riders should be holding their breaths. Meanwhile, for East Siders looking for a silver lining, I prefer the air conditioning on the R62As to that on the R142s, and the Second Ave. Subway might be nearing its revenue date by then as well.

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The first R179s will be delivered in late 2014. I miss the colored subway bullets on the front. (Rendering via Bomardier)

The MTA voted to approve the deal in late March, and today, the i’s have been dotted and the t’s crossed as Bombardier announced the signing of a $599 million deal to provide Transit with the R179 rolling stock order. The order, built entirely in Plattsburgh, NY, will consist of 300 new cars.

While we know the general contours of the R179 contract, Bombardier’s announcement gives us a timeline. The first 10 cars will arrive in New York City during the third quarter of 2014, and the remainder of the order will be delivered between mid-2015 and early 2017. These cars will replace the R32s and R42s currently in use along the C and J/Z lines respectively.

Raymond Bachant, President, Bombardier Transportation North America, said: “Bombardier’s partnership with NYCT began in 1982 with an order for 825 subway cars. Since then, we have delivered close to 1,900 vehicles to our valued customer. We are proud that NYCT has shown its confidence in our products and technologies once again, and we look forward to providing high quality, reliable, safe rail cars for the millions of people who ride New York’s subway system every day.”

We still don’t have many details about the inner workings of these newest rolling stock order. They will, of course, come replete with dynamic strip maps and the like, but by the time these arrive in New York City, that innovation will have been on the rails for the better part of a decade. We’ll see what other new features the R179s carry soon enough.

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In a few years, the R160s will no longer be the newest members of the Transit fleet. (Photo by flickr user Queens Surface 295)

When the MTA Board gathers to meet later this morning, the august governing body will vote to determine the fate of the system’s next rolling stock purchase, and all signs indicate that they will award Bombardier with a $599 million to build out the R179s. The entire construction process, as Joe Lhota told me on Monday, will take place in New York state, and the MTA will receive 300 new cars as it gears up to retire the oldest rolling stock in the system.

As of now, the exact technical schematics of the new cars are unknown. It appears as though they will be surveillance-camera ready and will likely be modeled off of the R160s currently in service. We know that the 300-car order will spell the end of the line for the R32s and R42s currently in use along the C and J/Z lines respectively. Bombardier, builders of the R62A and R142 cars, bid approximately $57 million less for the project than ALSKAW, according to MTA documents.

Impressively enough, the cars these R179s will replace beginning in approximately 38 months — or by mid 2015 — have held up remarkably well considering their age. The R32s were the first mass-produced stainless subway cars and entered service in the mid-1960s. They will be past 50 by the time they are shelved, and their current upkeep and maintenance stats show their age. These cars breakdown more frequently and require more maintenance than the MTA’s newer models. The R42s, the city’s first fully air conditioned cars, entered service in 1969 and 1970.

The history of the R179 is an interesting one as well. When the MTA wraps Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway in 2016, it will need additional car sets to maintain service levels along the BMT Broadway line and the four-stop extension to the Upper East Side. Originally, the authority had planned on requesting a base order of 290 cars for the R179s with a purchase option for an additional 80 cars that would service Second Ave.

As the MTA notes in the staff summary, though, the funding didn’t materialize as expected and the authority weighed demand. “A reassessment of projected ridership growth as well as anticipated changes in ridership due to changes in demographics in certain parts of New York City led to the conclusion that 300 new cars would satisfy NYC Transit’s need in lieu of the original 290 plus 50 cars,” the document says. “It was determined that car requirements for 2nd Avenue Subway Phase 1 can be accommodated with existing spare cars.”

So with the impending end of the 222 R32s and 48 R42s still in service, straphangers want to know if their line will get the shiny new toys. Will the C train move up from worst to first? And what of the sets along the Jamaica lines? Early reports indicate that the new cars will head elsewhere while the C line will get the hand-me-downs. I’d imagine the A will enjoy the R179s while the C gets the old R46s that run along the A.

And so, the upgrade of the rolling stock, an unsung hero in the revival of the subway system, will continue. Now how about those R211s?

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Is this an early glimpse at the cars delivered as part of contract R188? (Photo via Wikipedia)

The Internets were all abuzz today with word that the first of the R188s hit the Corona Yards last night with more to follow. The cars aren’t yet ready for revenue service, but they are sitting out in the open for shutterbugs to snap. Reportedly, the photo above from Wikipedia is the first glimpse we’ve had of the new order of rolling stock.

The R188 order is a strange one. The MTA is purchasing only a limited number of new cars while they’re converting a bunch of R142As into CBTC-ready sets. What you’re seeing here is a converted R142A. The new cars aren’t yet ready for delivery, and the 7 line isn’t yet ready for CBTC either.

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The R32s, seen here along the E line in 2008, will have to last a few more years. (Photo by flickr user gmpicket)

When the MTA first unveiled the 2010-2014 Capital Plan back in 2008, the rolling stock investment of course drew some attention. In that document, the MTA put forth its plan to purchase the so-called R179s that would replace the R44s and R32s. Optimistically, we even expected them early on in the five-year plan.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and as the MTA has struggled to get its financial house in order, the R179s have become a victim, for now, of the budget knife. In the three-year budget released this week, the MTA announced that the R32s, already 47 years old, will have to last until 2017 when the MTA can bring the R179s on line. Fifty-three year old rail cars will be a sight to behold.

The full text follows:

Due to the accelerated retirement of R44 cars caused by structural defects, the older 222 R32 car fleet is required to remain in service beyond their normal service life. The R32 cars are currently 47 years old and already well past the standard expected useful life of 40 years. Now these cars will be required to remain in service for at least another 6 years until 2017 when new R179 cars are delivered.

The R32 cars received their last SMS work in 2007 and require a new SMS cycle to maintain acceptable performance levels for the next six years. R32 car MDBF is the worst by far of any car fleet now in revenue service; in April 2011 12-month average MDBF for the R32 fleet was just 57,210 compared with a fleet-wide average of 171,553 for the same period. The failure to perform this needed SMS cycle would result in unacceptable further deterioration of this already low level of performance. The R32 SMS cycle will require an addition of 52 positions and costs of $7.9 million per year for three years.

Already, these cars are in poor condition, and riders along the C train have been complaining of failing air conditioners and generally decrepit cars. For another six years, we’re stuck with them.