The MTA is set to issue a high-priced contract to a private company for the overhaul of heating and air conditioning systems on more than 1,000 subway cars — a job that’s historically been done by the agency’s in-house workforce.
NYC Transit has a shortage of car mechanics due to a hiring freeze put in place during the pandemic — and the subway’s repair shops are packed to the gills as crews overhaul other cars, transit officials said.
That’s left the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with a sticky wicket when it comes to its fleet of R160 cars, which run on the subway’s lettered lines.
The R160s first hit the tracks 10 to 15 years ago — and need their ventilation systems revamped to ensure riders aren’t stuck in hot cars during the summer or chilly cars in the winter.
The HVAC systems sit on the tops of subway cars, and performing maintenance on one of them requires the car’s entire roof to be removed and shipped to a separate location.
Transit officials said the agency already did the overhaul work on 666 of the R160 cars with its in-house crews, but plan to issue a contract to an outside vendor to do the work on another 1,002.
“The volume of routine HVAC unit overhauls has increased in recent years as a result of New York City Transit introducing a significant number of new train cars to the system,” said MTA spokesman Andrei Berman. “As a result, the number of HVAC units now exceeds the amount of space available for maintaining this quantity of HVAC units.”
MTA officials have selected a company to do the work, but the contract must be approved by the agency’s board. Officials have not yet announced the cost of the contract.
MTA leaders were forced to gain approval from Transport Workers Union Local 100 to send the work to an outside company. The in-house unionized workers will remove the HVAC units from the tops of the cars at the subways’ Coney Island Yard, and the company will move them by trucks to their own facility.
Once the work is complete, the HVAC systems on the cars will not need to be worked on for another 12 years.
The MTA is slated to purchase 1,900 new subway cars through its 2020-2024 capital plan — and has another 535 on the way through a previous order.
In the coming decades, all of those cars will also need major maintenance work. Matt Ahern, chair of Transport Workers Union Local 100′s car equipment division, said the MTA needs to build more facilities so the new trains can be serviced in-house.
“The problem is space, and the MTA needs to build a new HVAC shop, as well as more space to store cars,” said Ahern.
“The size of the subway fleet is going to increase by 1,500, and there isn’t enough space for them,” Ahern said. “They might store cars in layup tracks across the system overnight, but then you have problems with graffiti hits and vandals.”
“They plan to buy all these new cars, but no plan to build more space to work on them and store them.”