The Long Island Rail Road’s first new trains in nearly two decades are set to roll out this month, providing what officials say will be improved amenities, comfort and safety to weary commuters.
After multiple delays, including from damage caused in a derailment last year of some of the earliest cars to be manufactured, LIRR officials said they expect to debut their new M9 electric car fleet by the end of May. It will be the first rollout of a new fleet since the LIRR’s M7 trains were introduced into service in 2002.
Although LIRR officials did not provide additional details on the rollout, they previously have said the first batch of M9 trains — 92 of them — would be put in service gradually from May until January of next year. The railroad has exercised an option to buy an additional 110 M9 cars.
The railroad has said the new fleet of 202 cars, priced at $734 million, is needed to address booming ridership, which is expected to grow even more when the LIRR opens a second Manhattan station at Grand Central Terminal in 2022 — and to replace some of its antiquated M3 trains from the 1980s.
“These M9s are truly the next generation of commuter rail cars. They will help us expand our fleet capacity and are the first step in allowing us to meet the anticipated ridership for East Side Access,” Jim Allen, the LIRR’s director of new rolling stock, said at an October meeting of the MTA Board. “Customers expect great service from us, and having these new cars in revenue service will allow us to deliver that increased reliability to them.”
The new fleet's impending arrival can’t come soon enough for many commuters who have suffered through a shortage of LIRR train cars, resulting in overcrowding and increased delays.
But more than just quantity, the LIRR has said the trains will bring improved quality for passengers in the form of several amenities, including 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”). Another digital display on the exterior of the front car of the train will tell passengers waiting on platforms the train's destination.
Other new features will include “no-touch” hand dryers, toilets, soap dispensers and faucets in bathrooms, increased window tint to reduce sun glare, four 32-inch multimedia screens in each car, and closed-loop seat armrests that are less likely to snag and rip clothes than on the M7 trains. The seats also will be slightly wider, the LIRR has said.
Peter Haynes, a former LIRR systems project specialist who now leads the LIRR Commuters Campaign, an advocacy group, said that judging from the specifications, he doesn’t expect the new trains will be “a quantum leap improvement” over what riders have now.
“It’s an incremental improvement. Not snagging your clothes is nice. Fixing some things in the bathrooms is nice,” said Haynes, who does expect the new trains to buy some good will with commuters worn from lengthy delays and service disruptions and a recent fare increase. “It’s not going to erase all the faults from the past, but it will help.”
The M9s, which were originally set to arrive more than a year ago, have encountered numerous delays, including those caused by the LIRR making changes to its original specifications and by problems with the cars’ design. In 2015, two years after work on the new fleet began, the railroad revealed there was not enough space in the cars’ design for the hardware needed for “positive train control” — federally required crash prevention technology.
Another major setback occurred last year when eight “pilot” cars owned by Kawasaki were damaged in a yard derailment before they could be delivered to the LIRR.
The first of the trains arrived in New York about a year ago. The LIRR has been performing tests on the M9 cars in recent months, allowing some commuters to get a peek at the trains — identifiable by their blue and yellow exterior striping — as they cruise through the system.
Far Rockaway branch commuter Jonathan Martindale recently snapped some photos of an M9 parked at a Jamaica station platform during his commute.
“They look much like the M7s, but with a little flashier coloring,” said Martindale, 40, who is looking forward to being able to board one of the trains. He began riding LIRR trains regularly while attending high school in Brooklyn.
“They felt old then,” Martindale said. “And to — 20 years later — still be on the same trains and paying this kind of money, it makes you wonder.”
AMENITIES ON NEW LIRR TRAINS
- Closed-loop seat armrests that prevent clothes snags
- Electrical outlets on both sides of car in each row of seats
- Car number display (“Car 2 of 6”)
- Front-of-car exterior destination signs (visible as train approaches station)
- Powered door between trains
- Improved bathroom doors
- Additional coat hooks in bathroom
- Additional bathroom air-quality treatment
- “No-touch” hand dryers, toilets, soap dispensers and faucets in bathrooms
- Scratch-proof mirror
- Four 32-inch multimedia screens in each car
- Four to six additional seats per pair (217 seats per pair)
- Energy-efficient LED lighting
- Improved ride quality from M7
- Text-to-speech service updates
- Suspension system flip seats (prevents slamming)
- Quieter side doors that operate with less impact force and are easier to open manually in an emergency
- Slightly increased width of seats
- Increased window tint (reduces sun glare)
Source: Long Island Rail Road