The MTA approved Wednesday a $1.8 billion contract to purchase the next generation of Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North train cars, despite concerns from some commuter advocates about the limited role they've had in the process so far.
The contract calls for Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. of Yonkers to build as many as 676 new M9 electric cars. The state-of-the-art trains will feature several improvements from the M7 cars that make up the majority of the LIRR's current fleet, including wider bodies, more seats, larger windows and electrical outlets in every row.
The initial order covers 92 LIRR cars, which are expected to be in service by 2018. Commuter advocates at the Manhattan meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board said they hoped the MTA does a better job of soliciting their input before ordering any more train cars.
"We believe that incorporating meaningful input from those who will travel in these cars daily, through an open design process, can identify issues and opportunities for improvement of the design and in the end substantially improve the final product," said William Henderson, executive director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee.
Ira Greenberg, who represents the LIRR Commuter Council on the MTA board, said his group had some input in the specifications of the first 92 cars ordered, and that he hopes to maintain that dialogue.
MTA chairman and chief executive Thomas Prendergast assured board members that there would be a "full discussion" before the agency exercised its option to buy any more of the M9 cars, which are expected to last as long as 40 years.
"We understand the importance of a car procurement that will take us well into the 21st century, of making an informed decision that is based on the needs of the agency and of the specific lines that it would operate on," Prendergast said.
James Blair, who represents the Metro-North Commuter Council, said that discussion should include revealing rejected car designs, and also addressing the needs of parts of the commuter railroad system that aren't electrified.
The MTA agreement represents the largest rail contract for Kawasaki, Laura Alemzadeh, the company's general counsel, said in a statement.