When the MBTA needs new rolling stock ...

Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

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When the MBTA needs new rolling stock ...

Postby Yellowspoon » Mon Mar 13, 2017 9:41 pm

When the MBTA (and other transit systems) orders new rolling stock, why do they always seem to re-invent the wheel.

Someone should make subway cars like Boeing. No, not the LRV, I'm talking about the 737. Next month is the 50th anniversary of the Boeing-737. Yes, it has evolved over the past 50 years, but they must have done something right. As of December, 2016, Boeing had over four thousand unfilled orders for the 737. As for transit, rather than come out with a type 9, why not make a few modifications and make a new type 8-B? This same pattern of building-from-scratch seems to also apply to Red/Blue/Orange lines as well.

With the Boeing LRVs, Boston and San Francisco tried to design standard for light rail. Obviously that failed. Has anyone tried that since? As I look at light rail around the country, it seems that every city has their own version. Why isn't there a standard for light rail (and heavy rail, for that matter). Are there any standards other than the 1435mm track gauge? What about current collection, car width, platform height, etc. Even the 1435mm standard track gauge isn't really a standard as BART seems to have ignored it. Has anyone else ignored it?

As for heavy rail, the Red line and New York's "B" (BMT/IND) division seem to have cars with very similar specifications. Has Boston ever combined any of their red-line orders with NYCTA? And like light rail, are there any two transit systems where the cars have similar, if not identical, specifications?

As for ordering new cars, why not take them one-at-a-time rather than all at once? Cars don't all fail at the same time. It appears that the MBTA builds a construction facility, builds 5-8 cars a month for a year or so, then abandons construction until the next time, 10-12 years later. Why not build one or two a month, keep trained people permanently employed. To keep the pipeline permanently running, build green line cars for a few years, then red line cars for a couple of years, etc. It would seem that the pipeline approach (like Boeing's) would greatly take advantage of the economies-of-scale.

As for blue/orange/red, why married-pair? The MBTA never seems to run anything but six-car trains. That's four oversized-unused cabs that are not available to passengers. Why not run a six-pack of articulated cars? I was in Hong Kong a few years ago and their subway cars were over 280m (900 ft) of articulated steel. Now, I know that our stations are less than 120m (400 ft.) long, but with four fewer cabs and no waste of space between cars, the MBTA could easily add 15%-25% capacity per train with articulated heavy rail.

Here's a labor-saving device that I noticed last week when I was on a light rail in San Francisco one evening. Apparently SF runs an honor system of fare collection. I never saw a multiple car train on this visit, but the signs said the cash customers must enter via the front of the first car to receive their receipt (which is also a transfer). I assume that multiple car trains only have one operator. Every entrance to light rail cars, (bus, too) had a place to tap your "Clipper" card. Those who did nothing were either fare evaders or had a monthly pass. SF has roving fare checkers to insure that you've paid your fare. Something of which the MBTA should have more.
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Re: When the MBTA needs new rolling stock ...

Postby CRail » Tue Mar 14, 2017 1:33 am

A 737 can fly to any major airport worldwide. Even when a car is designed to the very specific clearances and other specifications required by the infrastructure they'll use they have to go through extensive testing and sometimes they fail (Type 8s for example). You cannot build a standard subway car (the feds tried to build a massive fleet of standardized subway cars that would be used nationwide, they're both in Maine on static display), in Boston alone we have to have 3 different fleets, and even when they match (orange/blue Hawker Siddeleys and the orange/red Chinese cars, 01100s and 01400s were pretty much the same too) they cannot be built to the same specs. NYC has two completely different incompatible fleets, despite sharing manufacturers and esthetics (and that's not counting PATH and Staten Island which are railroads rather than transit systems). As far as buying one and then another and then another, the set up cost for a single car is so great you have to buy in bulk to make it economical. Try special ordering your own T-Shirt, one shirt could cost over $90 but if you buy a whole bunch they could be $6 each. Our NewFlyer buses can be found all over the continent, yet we still buy more than 100 at a time. Remember too, that capital expenses like fleet purchases are funded largely by federal grants, and you get that money in one lump sum and you spend it or you don't get another one. Uncle Sam helps the airlines quite a bit too, but I doubt they'd be on board with buying Delta 150 737s.

Many other systems now use Proof of Payment, which is what Muni does in San Fransisco. The closest system to ours (geographically) that does this is the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in Jersey City, and they run 2 car trains with a single operator. This is coming to Boston. Charlie 2.0 is in the design phases and it will eliminate on board fare payments both on buses and streetcars. I suspect the Type 10s will operate with a one man crew regardless of how many cars are in the train. Type 7s and 8s are already capable of this, even in their current mismatched pairs, but fare collection, safety concerns, and other practical realities continue to prohibit the practice. I don't believe you'll ever see OPTO on the Green Line with the current equipment, and certainly hope that's the case.

Regarding 6 car sets, this is a terrible idea. I don't even like NYC's concept of having their 10 car trains consist of 2 5 car sets. Only a few years ago, there was widespread motor failure on the Red Line's 01800s, when something like 12 deuces (24 cars) were OOS due to failed motors. My guess is maybe 15 cars were bad yet almost twice as many had to be out of service because the pairs are married. With complete sets, if one car goes bad, you lose an entire train. The Chinese cars being built will be single ended A-B deuces (one cab for every 2 cars). I think this will also prove to be a logistical nightmare but at least you still only lose 2 cars in an equipment failure. Having said that, though, I will say that Toronto's snake cars are friggin cool!
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Re: When the MBTA needs new rolling stock ...

Postby Yellowspoon » Thu Mar 30, 2017 2:11 pm

I understand the concept of economies of scale. The T could still order 100 at a time, but take delivery over several years. (If I ordered 120 VWs to be delivered one a month for 10 years, I'm pretty sure I would get a volume discount) This way they would not need to build a new assembly plant, train personnel, build 'em, and layoff every time they place an order. On the other hand, I wonder how Warren Buffet orders engines for BNSF? Maybe trains are different than cars and airplanes.
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Re: When the MBTA needs new rolling stock ...

Postby MBTA3247 » Thu Mar 30, 2017 9:43 pm

Yellowspoon wrote:I understand the concept of economies of scale. The T could still order 100 at a time, but take delivery over several years. (If I ordered 120 VWs to be delivered one a month for 10 years, I'm pretty sure I would get a volume discount) This way they would not need to build a new assembly plant, train personnel, build 'em, and layoff every time they place an order. On the other hand, I wonder how Warren Buffet orders engines for BNSF? Maybe trains are different than cars and airplanes.

That would actually reduce the economies of scale. One up and running, a production line can finish several cars per month. Slowing that down means either idling parts of the production line for some of the month or retooling them to handle other orders. In addition, you'll have to pay:

*overhead costs of running the building (power, HVAC, managers, etc) over a longer period of time
*warehouse costs for parts that might otherwise be delivered on a just-in-time basis
*greater variability in component and labor costs over the course of the project
*you run the risk of a major component being discontinued

Freight locomotive orders are a different beast altogether, as BNSF is ordering the same locomotives as every other Class I. GE doesn't need to do any retooling to build an ET44AC for UP right after building an ET44C4 for BNSF.

The way to keep railcar factories open is to have enough customers to keep them at least moderately busy on a long-term basis. Budd and Pullman-Standard both went bust in the late 1980's because there were only a handful of potential customers in the entire country, and none of them needed anymore new cars at that point.
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Re: When the MBTA needs new rolling stock ...

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Fri Mar 31, 2017 7:55 am

MBTA3247 wrote:
Yellowspoon wrote:I understand the concept of economies of scale. The T could still order 100 at a time, but take delivery over several years. (If I ordered 120 VWs to be delivered one a month for 10 years, I'm pretty sure I would get a volume discount) This way they would not need to build a new assembly plant, train personnel, build 'em, and layoff every time they place an order. On the other hand, I wonder how Warren Buffet orders engines for BNSF? Maybe trains are different than cars and airplanes.

That would actually reduce the economies of scale. One up and running, a production line can finish several cars per month. Slowing that down means either idling parts of the production line for some of the month or retooling them to handle other orders. In addition, you'll have to pay:

*overhead costs of running the building (power, HVAC, managers, etc) over a longer period of time
*warehouse costs for parts that might otherwise be delivered on a just-in-time basis
*greater variability in component and labor costs over the course of the project
*you run the risk of a major component being discontinued

Freight locomotive orders are a different beast altogether, as BNSF is ordering the same locomotives as every other Class I. GE doesn't need to do any retooling to build an ET44AC for UP right after building an ET44C4 for BNSF.

The way to keep railcar factories open is to have enough customers to keep them at least moderately busy on a long-term basis. Budd and Pullman-Standard both went bust in the late 1980's because there were only a handful of potential customers in the entire country, and none of them needed anymore new cars at that point.


Exactly. Economy-of-scale is fully dependent on who else is ordering it. The T, if it needs diesel locos but is hard-up on how to pay for them, could for example put down a smallish base order for Siemens Chargers then backload the options stretched far, far out because there's another 40 or so Amtrak corridor options and 150 Amtrak national options (i.e. identical but w/ larger fuel tanks) in the queue after the 61 units currently on-order and with all likelihood those options are going to be drained in-full. You can stretch that one out over several installments to carve out time to go fishing for more money simply by triaging with Siemens to re-slot the customer batch deliveries. That's exactly how MARC handled its Charger order; they're slotted between IDOT's state-sponsor corridor options and the unexercised options still on the table for CA/WA/MI/MO to drain. With the Charger looking like a winner and its top competitors the EMD F125 and MPI HSP-46 looking (unfortunately for us) like losers, new commuter rail Charger orders are very likely to start coming as well as another national order when VIA Rail replaces its F40PH fleet prior to 2025.

It's also how the nearly always-going Bombardier BLV coach assembly line has slotted customers, and how MARC was able to worm its way in parasitically on NJT's trailing options for the East Coast MLV's. And it's how CDOT managed to greenlight a supplemental order of Kawasaki M8 EMU's years after the initial order; Kawasaki's Yonkers plant is already tied up for two-thirds a decade on MTA M9 orders for MNRR and LIRR on a similar-enough parts-compatible EMU build that restarting the assembly line for the dual shoe + panto M8's has optimal economy-of-scale in spite of its differences. And how Denver managed to glom onto SEPTA's Hyundai-Rotem Silverliner V order. For all this talk in the last FCMB meeting about evaluating very long-term CR electrification here, it'll be interesting to watch how NJT's (surely Bombardier) MLV EMU's perform. That would be the make to parasitically order off-shelf without customization if it ends up being a winner for NJT's 100-unit base order and up to 100 more options. Especially if SEPTA wises up and starts evaluating the same NJT base model for its 200+ unit Silverliner IV replacements instead of risking another SL5 homegrown-design debacle.


But outside commuter rail where they really should've gotten with the off-shelf program years ago, and the bus fleet where today they are pretty optimally syncing their rolling procurements around sole-source New Flyer makes divvied up between diesel hybrid and CNG engines...there's not a whole lot of off-shelf standardization that the T can shoot for. They're doing that with the Red + Orange order: same exact make under different-dimension tincans (a negligible-expense difference) unifying fleets on two different lines. But that's an intra-MBTA order, so all those Red supplementals they're managing to tap at excellent price point are the result of their own Orange + Red order's economy of scale. The most they're going to be able to do there for future flex is maybe restart the Orange tincan production at the tail end of the Red options if "when in Rome" considerations determine it's cheaper to pack the OL with the most reserves they can possibly lather on. It won't be because of any other subway/metro orders CRRC-Springfield picks up, because there are enough differences (weight, signaling, livery, etc.) system-to-system that even the generally generic and orthodox properties of most HRT systems won't quite translate to system-specific economies of scale.

Light rail's even tougher because there isn't a way to put absolute 100% off-shelf designs on Green without making enough Green-specific modifications that they're not truly off-shelf anymore. After the Breda debacle the T has already cleaned up its specs enough to pack a little more tried-and-true tech in the Type 9's...so we're about as close as we're ever going to get absent some major tunnel clearance construction projects to solve roof-height constraints and curve constraints unique to Boston. The only thing they should be thinking about is not reinventing the wheel with the Type 10's and chewing up another 5 years in design trying to make it as low-floor as possible. If the 9's work just fine, drain the options on that contract then immediately order 200 more...a la the Red/Orange contract opting to order more to replace the 01800's and max out the padding. The original fleet plan for 9's then somewhat-unlike 10's shooting for maximal low-floor space made little sense in light of how much scale that CRRC HRT order achieved on its extra units. It's noteworthy that mentions of a Type 10 redesign have been dropped or muted in the FCMB's latest unified fleet plan presentation in favor of more generic "order 200 trolleys" boilerplate. Means they're at least now thinking about shortcutting to ordering more as-is 9's for the 7+8 replacement order while the CAF assembly line is hot and going for complete fleet hegemony a la Red/Orange...even if it's unlikely they've made any firm decisions one way or the other on keeping or tossing the original Type 10 plan.
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