Home Rolling Stock Testing woes plague Bombardier’s faulty R179 cars

Testing woes plague Bombardier’s faulty R179 cars

by Benjamin Kabak

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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Larry Littlefield December 11, 2017 - 7:33 am

“What’s important now is not rehashing the past.”

Is always the point of view of those who benefitted in the past from policies to destroy the future.

I say that when the time comes to allocate misery in a future the has become the present, understanding who took the benefits in the past should always be job one. Or else they’ll take more.

Meanwhile, the new signals aren’t working either.

The Alstom cars had similar teething problems when NYCT bought them. The only cars that work right away are Kawasaki, but Japanese quality is not what it was 20 years ago, and in any even you think cars are expensive now wait until there is only one vendor.

Ralfff December 11, 2017 - 1:37 pm

May have to wait on Kawasaki to be available again. The Port Authority is about to get approval to spend $290M on new Kawasaki subway cars and overhaul all the existing ones in service, if I’m reading this correctly: http://corpinfo.panynj.gov/pag.....rizations/ December 7 PATH Board meeting

What’s interesting is that if I’m reading this correctly, the last buy for the identical PA-5 cars cost $1.5M/car in 2010, and they’re paying $3M/car for the same new ones now.

SEAN December 11, 2017 - 10:04 am

As I was reading this, a song popped into my head.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOR38552MJA&w=560&h=315%5D

Thank you South Park!

AMH December 11, 2017 - 12:53 pm

The new cars are just too computerized, and computers, as we know, are full of glitches. Any chance we can get Martinrea to bring back the Budd Company and build more R32s?

Brooklynite December 11, 2017 - 6:19 pm

The older cars all had teething problems of their own when they first arrived on property. Granted, this is worse than some of those issues were, but let’s not pretend that going back to 1920s tech is the way to solve these problems.

BruceNY December 13, 2017 - 1:44 pm

Not the 1920’s, the 1950’s-60’s would do. Long live the R-32!

Al December 14, 2017 - 12:24 am

The R16s were made in the 1950s and they were by all accounts horrible subway cars.

Building better technology is an ongoing process, and sometimes issues like these occur.

Peter Dougherty December 11, 2017 - 5:31 pm

And in other news, water is wet. Bombardier is a giant Canadian government slush fund that thinks it can build railcars and airplanes. They badly screwed up the latest TTC streetcar order that was supposed to be finished this summer, and MIGHT not be finished by year-end 2018.


SEAN December 11, 2017 - 7:17 pm

See my above comment.

Peter L December 12, 2017 - 12:01 pm

Oh, the TTC won’t even get the Flexities that were promised this year in the revised revised revised schedule (as amended).

Not sure slush fund is the right term – sink hole?

Montreal, you know, where Da Bomb’s HQ is, can’t even get their MPM-10s on anything like a reasonable schedule (“10” meaning 2010 when the contract was signed – the Vickers MR-63s were in service by ’66 and the Bomb MR-73s were in service by 1976).

The rap on Bombardier used to be that they built good stuff if it was someone else’s design. Now they just can’t build stuff.

SEAN December 12, 2017 - 4:50 pm

Now they just can’t build stuff. They are focusing on there C-series aircraft as airlines cant make money on 50-seat regional props.

Larry Littlefield December 13, 2017 - 1:16 pm

I wonder how much of this is the belief that your job is a political sinecure? Montreal and Toronto aren’t about to import the cars if a local company makes them. The state made Bombardier assemble the cars in Plattsburgh, New York.

Kawasaki opened a plant in Yonkers on a similar deal, but has kept it open since by competing for other orders from elsewhere. Perhaps everyone from management on down has been told that the plant’s continued existence depends on being competitive on cost and quality.

SEAN December 13, 2017 - 8:04 pm

Hey! If the plant keeps producing rail cars why complain.

For those who may not know, this site was the Otis elevator manufacturing facility for decades.

Nathanael January 9, 2018 - 9:56 pm

What’s going on is that the Bombardier execs were obsessed with their C-series commercial jet fantasies. They were willing to destroy their profitable business jet, private jet, skimobile, and railcar businesses to prop it up.

They thought that they could save a few pennies on railcar construction by outsourcing parts manufacturing to Mexico (a complete, unmitigated disaster — nothing was in spec and there was no quality control), and then skimped on the number of workers in Thunder Bay. They just didn’t *care*.

It was after that that they literally sold off or shut down all their profitable divisions to support their unprofitable C-Series fantasy. So Bombardier self-destructed due to management idiocy.

Am I bitter? Yes. I owned stock.

Nathanael January 9, 2018 - 9:58 pm

Note that Bombardier’s behavior on the critical Toronto streetcar order is so bad that they’ve been blacklisted from all future orders, *despite* the local boosterism.

They’re on the MTA blacklist too, which I think is a first for any railcar manufacturer.

Montreal hasn’t blacklisted Bombardier yet, but at this rate, I think they will.

Nathanael January 9, 2018 - 10:01 pm

I see Toronto is still claiming that they’ll consider Bombardier, but if you know how to read statements by Toronto officials… they won’t.

The streetcar order was absolutely required by a date certain because the previous generation of streetcars is failing, requiring bus substitutions. Bombardier managed to miss that date (which was several years after the original delivery date). They’re now simply considered too unreliable to trust with an order.

tim December 12, 2017 - 2:11 pm

When new rolling stock was introduced to both the Victoria and Sub Surface (Metropolitan, Circle, District) Lines in London, they both had teething problems and delays. It isn’t unexpected. I guess the question is – are these current R179 problems greater than the norm for new rolling stock?

AMH December 13, 2017 - 6:13 pm

Good question–I just noticed this one, which happens to all rolling stock when they hit debris on the tracks:

“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.”

That would appear to be a problem with improperly secured buckets, not with the railcar.


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