rail fail

Newest Subway Cars Breaking Down More Often Than Some Old Ones

New model trains on the A line have been breaking down at faster rates than older models, Nov. 20, 2019.
New model trains on the A line have been breaking down at faster rates than older models, Nov. 20, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The MTA’s newest subway cars break down more frequently than some that have been running since the mid-1980s, records show.

The gleaming new R179 subway cars, which started going into service two years ago this week and cost nearly $2 million each, failed an average of every 127,374 miles, between March and October.

That’s a far higher rate than other models years older — including the durable 1984 R62 cars, which encountered problems every 265,324 miles along the Nos. 1 and 3 lines during the same period.

Still, the R179 cars, which ply the A, C, J and Z lines, improved to a 156,962-mile breakdown rate last month — slightly above the mark set under the MTA’s deal with Bombardier, the Canadian railcar manufacturer.

“Our contractual requirement is 150,000 miles, so we’re at that point,” Sally Librera, head of subways at New York City Transit told THE CITY. “We would like to see the performance go higher and we think as we continue to work through early performance issues, we’ll be able to do that.”

The best-performing subway cars — the Kawasaki-made R188, which began running along the No. 7 line in 2013 — travel an average of 561,984 miles before failing.

‘A Disappointment’

The first of the MTA’s newest subway cars began pulling into stations on Nov. 19, 2017, the shiny-but-delayed products of a 2012 purchase.

“It’s safe to say the R179 is a disappointment,” said Eric Loegel, the Transport Workers Union Local representative for train operators, conductors and tower operators.

“In the beginning, I can see there being bugs,” he added. “But after two years, I would think these subway cars would be near the top, in terms of performance.”

Internal incident reports obtained by THE CITY show multiple J trains with R179 cars were pulled off the tracks because of door and power problems just days after they began being tested, two years later than expected.

According to the reports, a train comprised of R179 cars was yanked from service on Oct. 24 after an operator felt pain in his hand from a “very uncomfortable” master controller.

Another was taken out of service, an Oct. 14 report shows, after a J train overran the elevated Gates Avenue stop in Brooklyn as rain fell.

Loegel said multiple operators have complained about the master controllers on the R179 cars, along with how their brakes react to rain.

‘A Complex Process’

As a result of the past problems, the MTA was able to add 18 subway cars — at a discounted rate — to its original 300-car order from Bombardier.

“Building a subway car is a complex process and that is why we have been so engaged at every step of the process, holding Bombardier accountable,” said Librera, adding that the MTA has kept staff on-site at Bombardier facilities in upstate New York, Mexico and in the city.

The R32 trains on the A-C line are the oldest cars in the system, but their retirement has been delayed.
The R32 trains on the A-C line are the oldest cars in the system, but their retirement has been delayed. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A Bombardier spokesperson said the company expects to deliver all 318 new subway cars to New York City Transit by the end of the year.

“More importantly, the fleet averaged 92 percent availability over the last 50 days, thus providing New York City Transit with much-needed cars for passenger service,” said the spokesperson, Maryanne Roberts.

But the late and problematic arrival of the new cars has delayed the retirement of the MTA’s oldest trains, which debuted in 1964. More than 200 of those distinctive subway cars still run on the A, C, J and Z lines, encountering failures an average of every 33,949 miles.

“We’re throwing good money after bad to keep those in working order,” said Andrew Albert, who represents the New York City Transit Riders Council on the MTA board.

The arrival of the new subway cars has been noticed by riders, some of whom post photos of the shiny trains on social media.

“I don’t really care about the new cars one way or the other,” said Alex Stevens, 27, as he waited for an A train at 34th Street-Penn Station Wednesday. “I just want the subway to work — I think that is everybody’s issue.”

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