wrong track

Subway Door Problems Went Beyond Two Incidents, Records Show

Technicians inspect doors on a new R179 subway car, on Jan. 9, 2020.
Technicians inspect doors on a new R179 subway car, on Jan. 9, 2020. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

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Transit officials said they pulled nearly 300 of the MTA’s newest subway cars after two door malfunctions — but records show the $600 million fleet’s recent woes go beyond the pair of incidents.

Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 7, the new R179 subway cars recorded 16 incidents — including at least 10 involving doors, according to internal reports obtained by THE CITY.

The reports cited repeated issues of “guard light trouble.” Guard lights are the red indicators that show whether doors are fully closed. In some cases, a door panel had to be locked, leaving passengers a narrow entry and exit, the records show.

In the most troubling incident — on Dec. 24 — a set of doors on a C train moving south of High Street remained “a few inches ajar” because a locking mechanism was not secure, New York City Transit President Andy Byford said Thursday.

The other incident cited by Byford occured on Jan. 3 when a computer system failed to indicate whether a door was closed.

“Door should not open en route, period,” Byford said, adding that riders were “not in harm’s way.”

He added that “it’s not unusual” for trains to encounter door problems. But the Dec. 24 and Jan. 3 incidents, he said, stood out.

A ‘Broader Issue’ Eyed

THE CITY examined the reports Thursday after Byford acknowledged the possibility of a “broader issue” with the cars built by Canadian manufacturer Bombardier.

New York City Transit President Andy Byford attends an MTA board meeting last year.
New York City Transit President Andy Byford attends an MTA board meeting last year. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“You don’t withdraw a fleet lightly, but I saw enough to say to me, I want this whole fleet checked and we’ll put in old trains instead,” Byford said.

The two episodes with glitchy doors — which Byford said initially appeared to be “routine” — marked only the latest problem with the MTA’s purchase from the railcar manufacturer.

Tim Minton, a spokesperson for New York City Transit, said only those two incidents “posed concern over the reliability of door-locking mechanisms” and described the others as “ordinary operational matters” on “doors that are exposed to weather elements and constant use.”

The new subway cars, as THE CITY reported in November, have endured more frequent failures than some models that have been in service since the 1980s.

Still, New York City Transit data shows the reliability of the R179 cars has been on a recent upswing, with mechanical problems that cause delays occurring every 168,365 miles in November 2019. That figure marked an improvement from the breakdowns every 91,179 miles last March.

Maryanne Roberts, a spokesperson for Bombardier, attributed the Dec. 24 and Jan. 3 problems to “a rare and very specific combination of unforeseen mechanical and operational circumstances.”

“That being said, safety is our utmost priority, which is why we are acting swiftly and decisively to put in place corrective measures on the entire fleet to ensure that the door mechanisms always perform as expected,” she added.

‘Legal Options’ Weighed

Byford said the MTA is “evaluating all legal options” against Bombardier, including recouping costs incurred by having to pull the new cars off the tracks.

The company already has been locked out of the new contract to build the MTA’s next generation of trains, amid late delivery of the R179 cars. Kawasaki was awarded the latest train contract in 2018.

An MTA incident report documents trouble with a door on a new R179 car.
An MTA incident report documents trouble with a door on a new R179 car. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“We are not impotent, we have mechanisms we can use against a vendor,” Neal Zuckerman, an MTA board member, told THE CITY.

The 298 cars that had been running on the A, C, J and Z lines have been benched indefinitely while inspections are conducted by Bombardier, door system supplier Kangni and an engineering firm brought in by the MTA. Only 24 cars had undergone initial inspections as of Thursday, Byford said.

In their place, spare subway cars — including some of the oldest and least reliable in the MTA’s fleet — have been pressed into duty.

“They were going to keep some of them in case of an emergency,” said Andrew Albert, an MTA board member. “But this is just too much.”

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