NYC Comptroller attacks Bombardier, MTA

Written by Andrew Corselli, Managing Editor of Railway Age
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NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Deputy Comptroller Marjorie Landa. Photo by Clayton Guse/New York Daily News.

According to news reports from from local media, an audit by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer takes issue with Bombardier Transportation’s long-delayed contract with the New York MTA for 300 new R179 subway cars.

The R179s, now running on NYCT’s A/C and J/Z lines, replace the R32 cars, delivered during the mid-1960s and the oldest rolling stock in the NYCT fleet.

R179 trainset at Broad Channel, on the NYCT A Line. Wikipedia photo.

Stringer’s audit, which he touted during a Dec. 9 press conference, notes that the MTA signed a $599 million contract with Bombardier in 2012 for the R179s, but that the agency had received only 18 of those cars by the original 2017 delivery deadline. He stressed that the contract is 35 months behind schedule, and that the MTA still hasn’t received the entire order.

An additional 18 R179 cars worth $36 million are being built as part of a liquidated damages agreement originally forged in December 2017, and updated in January 2019. New York City Transit CEO Andy Byford—no stranger to vehicle delivery problems involving Bombardier from his tenure with the Toronto Transit Commission—said the $36 million offsets the expense of keeping the R32s in a state of good repair.

As of Dec. 9, 2019, 305 of the now-318 R179 cars had been delivered. MTA spokesman Tim Minton said 278 have been qualified and placed in service, and that the remaining 13 cars will be delivered by the end of December.

The 46-page audit can be downloaded here:  Bombardier Report

Stringer said some of the first R179s had what he called “dangerous defects.” His audit points out that Bombardier began building the R179s without a contractually required sign-off from MTA officials on its welding procedures. In December 2013, Bombardier discovered a “hot cracking” issue with the welds on some of the cars, a problem that took 18 months to resolve. That delay, along with a longer-than-expected testing period, forced the R32 cars, which are costly and time-consuming to maintain because of their age, to remain in service, the audit states.

The R32s from the Budd Company were the first mass-produced stainless steel cars built for the New York City subway.

“New Yorkers have lived and commuted for three extra years with delays and breakdowns,” Stringer said. “We found that the MTA repeatedly looked the other way. They ignored clear warning signs. They failed to enforce deadlines. They delayed in enacting penalties. We need Bombardier and the MTA to clean up their act and step up. The MTA gave Bombardier a pass. And what does it mean for straphangers? More delays. More breakdowns of outdated cars.”

NYCT CEO Andy Byford

Andy Byford took issue with Stringer’s report. He said it only confirmed what he and his staff already know. “We have held Bombardier’s feet to fire throughout this project,” said Byford. “We have embedded resources to make sure the trains are being built properly. And critically, we leveraged the liquidated damages … to get us new trains, additional new trains that will benefit New Yorkers.”

Bombardier spokeswoman Maryanne Roberts said in a statement that the company is “focused on completing delivery of the remaining cars by the end of this month.”

The MTA plans to spend $6 billion on 1,900 additional subway cars in its next, $51 billion five-year capital plan, part of Byford’s $37.3 billion “Fast Forward” plan to overhaul the New York City’s transit system. Byford said a new law requires the MTA to leverage design-build contracting for its biggest projects to help ensure that future car orders are delivered on time, placing primary responsibility for railcar design and quality on carbuilders.

Railway Age Editor’s Opinion: While Railway Age does not dismiss the MTA’s difficulties with the R179 contract and Bombardier’s well-documented problems with recent railcar orders, we find Comptroller Stringer’s audit silly—and its timing quite obvious, given the contentious relationship between New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the fact that Stringer is running for Mayor. As we have said on several occasions, Cuomo often behaves as if the MTA is his own life-size electric trainset. Stringer’s attack on the MTA and Bombardier smells like a thinly veiled swipe at Cuomo and his MTA appointees. It is without a doubt another tiring, roll-the-eyes case of political grandstanding. The R179 order, despite its lateness, is nearly complete, and the MTA is getting an additional 18 cars at no cost—not too shabby a deal. Long-term, was keeping the R32s and other older equipment in service longer than expected a severe hardship on New York City’s 5 million daily subway riders, as Stringer proclaimed? We think not. We think Stringer and his ilk should stop wasting everyone’s time with costly audits, press conferences and photo ops and let Andy Byford run NYCT without interference and distraction. Only in New York!– William C. Vantuono

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