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Railroad commuters still waiting to board M9 trains; delays approaching two years

In 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded a

In 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded a contract to Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. to design and build the new fleet of "M9" rail cars for the Long Island Rail Road. Credit: MTA

The newest fleet of LIRR trains, which the manufacturer had predicted would be ready to roll out last month, are nowhere to be seen — and commuters have noticed.

In July, Kawasaki Rail Chief Executive Officer Yoshinori Kanehana told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board that, after multiple delays totaling nearly two years, the Long Island Rail Road should begin accepting its first “M9” train cars by the end of August.

When commuters returned to work after the Labor Day holiday weekend Tuesday, and there was no sign of the trains, some took to social media to vent their frustrations.

“Still waiting for an answer regarding the M9 trains and when the new projected release date is,” Twitter user @GucciGab tweeted at the railroad Tuesday.

“Hey @LIRR it’s Sept 3rd, where are those M9’s that we were promised?” Ronkonkoma commuter Matt Covey tweeted.

The LIRR and Kawasaki did not respond to requests for an update on the status of the trains.

“It was just weird. The first day back after Labor Day, and there was no announcement. No nothing,” Covey, 42, said Friday. Covey said he has seen some of the new trains sitting in rail yards in Queens and in Yonkers in recent months, and is eager to get onboard one.

The cars will offer amenities such as electrical outlets at every row of seats, automatic pocket doors in between train cars that open with the press of a button, and digital displays that tell riders which car they’re in (e.g.: “Car 2 of 6”).

“I think people — especially longer-term commuters — are just sick of riding the trains they’ve ridden on their entire life,” Covey said. “People are just looking for a train that isn’t going to smell like it’s been in service for 40 years.”

In September 2013, the railroad awarded a $1.8 billion contract to Kawasaki to design and manufacture the cars, which are needed to replace the railroad’s oldest cars and address its surging ridership, which is expected to grow even more once the railroad links to Grand Central Terminal in 2022. 

The first 92 cars — priced at about $403 million — originally were supposed to begin rolling out in September 2017, but their manufacturing has been besieged by setbacks, including from design problems and a derailment last year of several of the cars before they could be delivered. The LIRR expected to debut the trains in May, but railroad president Phillip Eng said some new issues that arose in testing again pushed back the rollout.

The railroad has exercised an option to buy an additional 110 cars, bringing the cost of the fleet of 202 to $734 million.

Without its new fleet in place, the LIRR has relied heavily on its early 1980s-era “M3” trains, with their torn blue and red seats and wood grain walls, to help piece together enough trains to serve its 360,000 riders each day. The LIRR’s newer M7 trains, which make up about three-quarters of the railroad's approximately 1,100 cars, have been around for 17 years.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council — the railroad’s state-mandated rider representative group — said the age of the trains has resulted in “constant problems” for commuters.

“We desperately need to get these new trains in service and running before we enter into the winter. Because we know it only gets worse in the winter time. So we need these trains in — and as many as possible,” Epstein said Friday. “This can’t go on. For the amount of money that we pay, it’s unconscionable. We deserve and need to have modern trains.”

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