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LIRR previews new train cars due in 2017

An LIRR train, one of the newer models,

An LIRR train, one of the newer models, is shown on the Ronkonkoma line. Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

Out with pocket-ripping arm rests. In with pocket doors.

The Long Island Rail Road Monday offered a first look at the trains of the future -- two days before a vote to approve a $1.8-billion contract with Kawasaki Rail to build as many as 584 new electric cars for the LIRR and sister railroad Metro-North.

The first order for 92 new LIRR cars, to arrive in late 2017, will be slightly wider with additional seats to provide a more comfortable and reliable ride, officials said.

The M9 cars will replace the LIRR's 30-year-old M3 models, recognizable by their retro wood-paneled interiors and blue vinyl seats, often held together by duct tape.

LIRR president Helena Williams said the new cars will be the next evolution of the LIRR's more modern M7 cars, which make up the majority of the fleet, as well as Metro-North Railroad's M8s, which went into service in 2011.

"We build off the successes of the M7s and M8s, and we're careful in recognizing the things that didn't work in prior cars," Williams said at a Manhattan meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's LIRR Committee.

Among the things that didn't work are the rough, protruding armrests known to grab onto coat and pants pockets. They will be replaced in the new cars by smooth, rounded armrests, LIRR officials said.

The M9 cars will replace the heavy swinging door at the end of cars with pocket doors that disappear into the train's body with a push of a button, allowing for easier movement between cars.

The train cars, which come in pairs (one with a bathroom, one without) will feature 221 seats per pair -- eight more than in a pair of M7 cars. Space for additional seats will come from relocating equipment storage.

Officials said the cars should be about 2 inches wider than current cars and allow for slightly roomier seats and a more comfortable middle seat.

"We tried to get as much as we could out of the car body width," Williams said. "Even if we gain just a smidge, it allows us to have a more distinguished middle seat."

Other details include larger windows, automatic public address systems inside and outside cars, upgraded air conditioning and improved system diagnostic abilities. The LIRR is also considering optional features such as digital visual displays for service information and advertisements, and built-in Wi-Fi capability.

The railroad has not yet chosen a color scheme for the new cars and is considering taking the question to a focus group, officials said. The railroad is to decide the final specifications in the next six months.

The LIRR is looking to increase its fleet of 1,185 train cars to 1,234 in time for the 2019 opening of the East Side Access project linking the railroad to Grand Central Terminal.

The next order under the contract with Kawasaki Rail, of Yonkers, to build cars for LIRR and sister MTA railroad Metro-North likely will be included in the MTA's 2015-19 Capital Plan, which will be voted on next year, officials said.

MTA Board member Ira Greenberg, who represents the LIRR Commuter Council, expressed concern about some features on the new trains becoming obsolete by the time the trains roll out four years from now.

"What we have available right now is very different than just three years ago," he said. "Technology keeps changing. We hope that, even in the middle of the procurement, they'll be able to keep up."

MTA officials assured board members that there is sufficient time to make changes.

Williams said the contract will create about 1,500 jobs at Kawasaki, which previously built the LIRR's split-level coaches on diesel trains, commonly known as "double deckers."

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