Home Rolling Stock The R179 Saga: Transit yanks Bombardier’s lemons over door safety concerns

The R179 Saga: Transit yanks Bombardier’s lemons over door safety concerns

by Benjamin Kabak

The R179, seen here at Ozone Park, has been plagued with problems from the start. (Via DJ_Hammers76)

In a nearly unprecedented move, the New York City Transit Authority pulled all of their new R179 cars out of service on Wednesday morning amidst safety concerns related to the new subway cars’ doors. Transit President Andy Byford revealed on Thursday that a door on a C train popped open mid-route and that Bombardier, the trouble-plagued manufacturer, found the incident to be “representative of a more systemic problem,” as Byford said. For Bombardier and the R179s, this move is the culmination of years of problems across the manufacture, testing and performance of these cars, and the $600 million, 318-car R179 order, awarded in 2012 and delivered three years behind schedule, looks more and more like a set of lemons with each passing problem.

The news first broke via a Subchat thread shortly after midnight on Wednesday, and as rush hour dawned, the R42s, which had been retired just last month, were back in service. The MTA had to increase headways on the J/Z on Wednesday by about two minutes but was able to run a full rush hour service Thursday using older rolling stock. Meanwhile, the finger-pointing began in earnest nearly immediately.

“Bombardier Transportation alerted the MTA [on Tuesday] that its analysis of two recent incidents, in which all passengers were safe, raised questions about the reliable operation of a door mechanism on their newly-delivered R179 cars. Out of an abundance of caution, NYCT removed all R179 train cars from service overnight for thorough inspection and re-deployed other spare cars to continue service for this morning’s rush and ensure minimal impacts to customers,” Byford said in an initial statement. “NYCT has brought on expert LTK Engineering Services for an independent third-party review of inspections of the cars…As documented, the MTA has identified repeated issues with Bombardier’s performance and finds this latest development unacceptable. We intend to hold the company fully accountable.

Bombardier put out its own statement a few hours later, blaming one of its own suppliers for the issues. “Recently, two doors on cars in the R179 fleet at New York City Transit failed to function as intended. Our investigation shows that the doors were not properly calibrated by Kangni, the door operator supplier. We are now inspecting all of the R179 cars and, where necessary, making adjustments to ensure the safe and reliable performance of the doors for the entire fleet,” Maryanne Roberts, a spokesperson for Bombardier Transportation, said.

On Thursday, in lengthy comments to the press, Byford expanded on the problems. One occurred on December 24 when a door indicator issue brought the train to a halt. That was the incident in which a door popped open while the train was en route. A January 3rd incident caused Bombardier to identify the “more systemic problem” with the reliability of the doors (among other things). “Upon learning this,” Byford said, “we took immediate careful, but immediate, action to ground the fleet. And as I said earlier, that action was consistent our overriding priority and philosophy, namely that our customers’ safety is the number one priority and always will be.” On Friday, The City’s Jose Martinez reported that the R179s had been flagged with 16 incidents between December 1 and the day they were pulled out of the service.

With the fleet on the shelf, Bombardier and the MTA, along with Kangni and LTK, are all inspecting each car. Byford explained the process:

Bombardier originally informed us that they believed the complete full inspections of every 179 car, all 298 of them, could be completed within a matter of days. At this point, LTK, Bombardier and Kangni have been inspecting the cars since Tuesday evening and they have performed initial inspections on 3 trains for a total of 24 cars. So clearly this is taking longer, much longer in fact than Bombardier initially expected and to be frank, that NYC Transit would like. We have directed Bombardier to dedicate all possible resources to these inspections and we still want to see more from them. But, and this is a key point, we will not rush any cars back into service until we are wholly satisfied that it is safe to do so. So it will take as long as it safely takes because we want to ensure this process is completed as quickly and safely as possible. But we are also looking at the systemic and procedural issues revealed in this process and Bombardier has agreed on our direction to a software upgrade to provide an additional level of assurance to the door condition on all R-179s. So that’s additional work, and that explains why the process is taking longer than we initially thought it would.

For Byford and the MTA, this grounding sounds like it will be the last straw in a problem-plagued relationship. Bombardier has not yet been subject to the MTA’s new (and draconian) debarment rules, though the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA called for just that outcome on Thursday. Meanwhile, the agency is going to try to wrest something out of the rail car manufacturer. “The MTA finds Bombardier’s latest and repeated failures with these cars to be wholly unacceptable. We intend to hold Bombardier fully accountable for this issue, and for the other issues we have experienced over the course of this contract,” Byford said, later adding, “We are evaluating all legal options against Bombardier, including the best way to recover costs incurred as a result of this matter.”

Scott Stringer’s R179 Report: A Preview of Problems to Come

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s December audit of the problem-plagued R179s portended the fleet’s grounding.

Byford’s promise must be music to Scott Stringer’s ears as the New York City Comptroller recently published a scathing report about the MTA’s experiences with Bombardier and the R179 order. I didn’t have an opportunity to write up Stringer’s report before the R179s were yanked from service, but the potential 2021 mayoral hopeful had recently issued a scathing indictment of both Bombardier’s performance and the MTA’s lax oversight with regards to the R179 order. You can read his report right here as a PDF.

The gist of the report was unsurprising to rail fans and MTA watchdogs, and Stringer summarized at a high level:

The audit found that throughout the seven-year extended contract term Bombardier consistently failed to timely meet project milestones, comply with technical requirements, produce acceptable work, and promptly correct serious defects in critical structural components of the subway cars. In addition, the Comptroller’s audit shows that the MTA failed to adequately oversee Bombardier’s contract performance and timeliness and failed to complete required annual contractual evaluations to hold Bombardier accountable.

According to Stringer’s analysis, Bombardier missed 19 milestones (or essentially all of them), including well-documented problems relating to welding and failure to meet testing obligations. Since delivery, the cars have constantly broken down at higher rates than any other new MTA rolling stock, and Stringer did not spare the agency either. Stringer felt the agency should have explored terminating the contract and must institute harsher penalties for late and sub-par performance in the future. In that regard, we’ll see what legal options the MTA pursues over the next few weeks and months.

Stringer took both the MTA and Bombardier to task this week. “The New York City subway riders who foot the bill for the MTA’s $600 million contract with Bombardier were promised new, state-of-the-art train cars to help modernize our ailing transit system. Now, all the cars that were delivered so far have been pulled from service due to critical defects. It is completely unacceptable,” he said, citing his December audit. “Bombardier sold us lemons. Straphangers need the MTA to manage these contracts from the beginning — before the trains go off the rails.”

What Comes Next

The MTA and Bombardier are going to work to get these new cars in order, and eventually, the two parties will head toward some sort of dispute resolution process. With so much attention on the faulty nature of these cars, Bombardier will be under public pressure to provide some compensation. Interestingly, working out a compromise will fall to a familiar face as one-time MTA Executive Director Lee Sander was tabbed to head up Bombardier Transportation’s floundering Americas operation in late 2018. He’s been in charge of dealing with delivery and performance issues in Toronto, and he’ll have to clean up this mess in New York as well.

During comments this week, the MTA has repeatedly stressed the “preliminary” nature of all the publicly available information, and as internal investigations continue, the agency almost seems to be expecting more problems to surface. For now, the old Budd-built cars will roll for a few more miles as the MTA and Bombardier try to make lemonade out of the R179 lemons.

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heyscola January 10, 2020 - 7:50 am

Is BART having the same kind of problems with their Bombardier order?

Moofie January 10, 2020 - 10:00 am

TTC finally retired their retired their old streetcars at the end of December, after Bombardier delivered the replacements years late. Bombardier is unable to deliver anything on time to any of the North American transit agencies. I got to ride one of the old CLRV streetcars on the 511 route on their last day, they were essentially PCC streetcars modernized slightly when they were built in the 70s.

Peter L January 10, 2020 - 10:29 am

Don’t confuse the MTA’s R-179 issues (years late, don’t work) with Montreal’s MPM-10 issues (years late, don’t quite fit the tunnels) or Toronto’s LFLRV issues (years late, don’t work) or BART’s D/E cars (years late, don’t work) or London’s Overground and Cross rail trains or DB’s trains or SBB’s trains or …

Why does anyone do business with Bombardier at all?

Martin January 10, 2020 - 2:21 pm

For reference, here’s a story about the London issue, which saw Bombardier delivering trains over a year late, and a compensation package that included a month’s free travel for passengers on the affected line:

Larry Littlefield January 10, 2020 - 10:52 am

“For Byford and the MTA, this grounding sounds like it will be the last straw in a problem-plagued relationship.”

Given the limited oligopoly in transit car manufacture, the MTA is in no position to disbar anyone. They can pretty much screw us. Kind of like the accounting firms and others can get away with fraud, because if the Feds shut them down there would be too few left.

The U.S. allowed all the passenger airliner manufacturers to merge into one. It would be the only one in the world if the Europeans didn’t subsidize Airbus.

Meanwhile, all the rail signal manufacturers merged into the bankrupt Railworks, which used excess profits in New York to float the rest of the company.


Benjamin Kabak January 10, 2020 - 10:56 am

They’ve already disqualified Bombardier from bidding on rolling stock orders. The disbarment would impact Bombardier’s ability to bid on any MTA projects or other state work and would have a very negative impact on the company’s ability to do business in the US. That’s why the MTA hasn’t pulled the trigger on debarment yet, though groups are advocating for it.

SEAN January 10, 2020 - 2:50 pm

Here’s a good case study to see if debarment would be effective. If Bombardier is negatively impacted by this, perhaps NFI Group & other transit vehicle suppliers will be more proactive in both cost as well as delivery schedule for any contracts signed.

RichardB January 10, 2020 - 2:35 pm

At least elsewhere in the world there are a number of competitors unlike aircraft manufacturers. Siemens, Alstom, Stadtler, Talgo, Hitachi, CAF to name but a few and I am not forgetting CRRC or the South Koreans. Bombardier in the UK benefited in the past by being the remaining manufacturer within the UK. There approach to UK government was essentially “give us the contract or the kitten gets it” (i.e. they would close the factory). That attitude illustrates their approach to quality control. Now we have or are getting factories by Hitachi, CAF, Alstom, Talgo and Siemens they may find it more difficult to secure business.

Larry Littlefield January 10, 2020 - 3:36 pm

Bombardier got a contract by putting a factory in Plattsburgh, NY near their Quebec base. It was a political deal. Same with Kawasaki in Yonkers NY, and MK in Hornell, NY back in the day.

Siemens & Alstom have hosed NYCT worse that Bombardier. Only Kawasaki has really delivered the goods.

Peter L January 10, 2020 - 4:11 pm

They all do that because America insists on free-trade and a free-market so they insist on “Buy America” which means Plattsburg, Yonkers, Hornell, Sacremento, et all. The Chinese even “make” cars at Chicago and, I think, Springfield, Mass.

Erik January 10, 2020 - 4:15 pm

Here’s a couple of ideas:

-Stop using components from low QC nations like the PRC

-Make it so that NYCMTA can buy equipment that meets Buy America but is not necessarily assembled in New York State.

Charles January 10, 2020 - 6:39 pm

The china supplier is most certainly just an excuse, and in all cases it’s just one part of the problem. When anything goes wrong, Canada is very quick to accuse China or Russia; that’s much easier than acknowledging our bad behaviour.

“An aggravated bribery trial involving a Bombardier Inc. employee that began on Tuesday is not just about 37-year-old Evgeny Pavlov, but about the culture and behaviour of the company he worked for, Sweden’s top anti-corruption prosecutor says.”


BTW Montreal new subway cars are incredibly noisy, some kind of very annoying sounds like air is going in somewhere. It’s just some piece of garbage. In the old 1976 (Bombardier) cars, you ear only the sound of the rubber tires. These were actually the first trains Bombardier ever produce.

Since then, Bombardier have been continuously bailed out and subsidized massively by canadian taxpayers. According to the National Post, Bombardier recently received $3.7B (CAN) in subsidies:


For the new Montreal subway cars, there was not even a tender call; they just gave the contract to Bombardier as it if was a matter of course (at triple the price of would be competitors). How they get contracts everywhere: bribe, bribe, bribe, just like any canadian firm. Bribery and corruption are part of the Canadian culture.






It will continue as long as this kind of behaviour will have the unfailing support of the canadian government(s):

“Justin Trudeau defends Bombardier loan despite bribery charges against company official in Sweden”


“Trudeau, Couillard defend Bombardier bailout after execs take home millions in raises.”


Peter L January 11, 2020 - 10:56 am

Pretty sure the STM’s MPM-10 procurement was originally awarded to another builder (Siemens? Alstom?) and Bombardier sued and somehow won. The STM riders and the taxpayers lost, of course. The rap on Bombardier *used* to be that they did a great job with rail cars … if they didn’t design them (MUCTC [at the time] MR-73 which were a copy of the Vickers-built MR-63; Amtrak Superliner II, which were a Pullman design, et al, all were well-regarded – stuff they designed themselves, e.g., LRC, were crap). Now it seems that everything they do turns to poop. And their production system is so constipated that it takes forever for the poop to arrive!

Bombardier is adept at blaming a “supplier” but at some point, the industry has to clue in to the fact that the company has no idea how to select suppliers! (assuming that’s even the problem – probably not).

Armand is surely spinning in his grave.

Larry Penner January 10, 2020 - 5:16 pm

Virtually all MTA NYC Transit subway car procurements including this one are funded by grants from the Federal Transit Administration. Both the MTA and FTA have independent engineering consultant firms to supplement in house staff for oversight. These companies provide both oversight and technical assistance for capital projects. Engineering firms monitor the progress of major capital projects and prepare monthly progress reports. They are made available to MTA Chairperson Pat Foye, MTA Board members (I wonder if any read or are even aware of the FTA reports), MTA Agency Presidents including NYC Transit President Andy Byford, FTA HQ & Regional Office senior management teams and in house project oversight staff. Citizens can access some of these documents by going to the FTA or MTA web sites.

As part of requirements contained within all master grant agreements, using the FTA Transit Award Management System, the MTA provides updated Quarterly Financial and Milestone Progress Reports to the FTA on active capital improvement projects and programs including this subway car purchase.

The MTA NYC Transit also has a Fleet Management Plan. This document is updated each time there is a new subway car procurement. It might make for interesting reading for someone to research the progress of this subway car procurement since the original FTA grant was obligated many years ago. The exercise might provide some insight as to how we got to current status today.

(Larry Penner — a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, NYC Transit including numerous subway car procurements),

BRIAN BERKE January 11, 2020 - 2:23 pm

Sub contractors from China may well be the problem. You only have to look at the history of the London Taxi. When Manganese Bronze bought components from there that failed so often the warranty claims bankrupted the company. The supplier then became the owner and sales of the cab worldwide went to Chinese built vehicles not a British export.

Rob January 13, 2020 - 8:35 am

just a note – ‘the R42s, which had been retired just last month, were back in service; the old Budd-built cars will roll for a few more miles’ – that’s the r32s; the 42s were St Louis.

SEAN January 15, 2020 - 8:41 pm

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QmlnFatM9E&w=560&h=315%5D

Governor Cuomo’s speech on Penn Station, LGA AirTrain & more.

Al D January 23, 2020 - 12:13 pm

Does anyone have/can anyone find the Daily News or NY Post issue featuring a front page picture of an R-68(a?) D train at Beverly Rd. with the headline: L E M O N S ?

I couldn’t find it on a search.


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