The Long Island Rail Road purchased 202 M9 cars, with the...

The Long Island Rail Road purchased 202 M9 cars, with the goal of having them in place by 2019, ahead of the scheduled completion this December of East Side Access. Credit: Charles Eckert

The Long Island Rail Road’s new fleet of rail cars will be delayed another 17 months, according to the MTA, which said “workmanship issues” are largely to blame for the repeated setback in the $734 million contract.

The railroad’s order of 202 new “M9” rail cars already were running 18 months behind schedule before the latest problems with the cars’ manufacturer, Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. The railroad now predicts it will have all the cars by September 2023 — nearly three years later than originally expected.

“The project’s schedule has been impacted by a number of issues, which have made the project a true challenge,” said Jim Allen, the LIRR's director of new rolling stock. “Unfortunately, we have found that Kawasaki requires constant supervision of their work by the railroad.”

LIRR officials have said they intend to hold Kawasaki accountable for all costs related to workmanship issues, and are in discussions with senior managers at the firm on how to address delays. Kawasaki officials did not respond to requests for comment.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The rollout of the Long Island Rail Road’s $734 million fleet of new “M9” rail cars — already 18 months behind schedule — will be delayed by an additional 17 months. The railroad now predicts it will have all of the 202 cars it purchased by September 2023 — nearly three years later than originally scheduled.
  • The LIRR is attributing the delays to several factors, including COVID-19 and supply chain problems, but said the main obstacle has been “workmanship issues” on the part of the cars’ manufacturer, Kawasaki Rail Inc.
  • The railroad has discovered several “defects and failures” while testing the cars delivered by Kawasaki. The problems have been made worse by high employee turnover at Kawasaki and a shortage of parts, officials said.

The LIRR hired Kawasaki nine years ago to build the M9 model electric rail cars, which feature amenities including LED lights, electrical outlets at every row of seats, and push-button automatic doors between cars. The railroad purchased 202 cars, with the goal of having them in place by 2019, before the scheduled completion this December of East Side Access, which will require the railroad to bolster its fleet.

To date, the railroad has accepted just 132 cars from Kawasaki. The scarcity of the new trains among the inventory of about 1,200 cars has led some commuters to dub the M9 the “unicorn” of the LIRR’s fleet.

While COVID-19 and supply chain issues have contributed to the delays, LIRR officials said the biggest obstacle has been Kawasaki’s "workmanship." Allen said after cars have been manufactured in Kawasaki’s plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, and brought to New York, the LIRR regularly has discovered “defects and failures” while testing the trains.

“Our mandate is to not accept a car until it fully meets the requirements of the contract, has passed simulated testing, is determined by the project team to be safe and reliable, and is ready to provide our customers the quality product that they deserve,” Allen said.

Contributing to the problems has been an unusually high employee turnover rate at Kawasaki, and a shortage of parts, the LIRR said. Allen said the manufacturer is “missing” about 2,000 parts needed to finish the last 68 cars in the order.

The problems with the manufacturer could get worse for the LIRR, according to an independent engineer hired by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR's parent organization — to oversee the contract. The engineer noted that Kawasaki has been producing the cars at a rate of about four a month, and would have to increase that to five a month to hit the new September 2023 goal.

The engineer added that while LIRR officials have said the project remains on budget, the mounting delays could add $9.3 million in costs.

MTA chairman Janno Lieber said the authority is discussing its options, but the priority is “trying to help Kawasaki to get back on the straight and narrow.”

In March, an audit from the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli chided the railroad for its inadequate oversight of Kawasaki and for failing to collect $5.5 million in damages from the company. 

Lieber said the MTA is constrained by the lack of qualified rail car manufacturers in the United States. Kawasaki also is building 535 subway cars for the authority at a cost of $1.75 billion. Those cars are running about 18 months behind schedule.

LIRR officials noted that the M9 cars in operation have been performing well, traveling about 260,000 miles between breakdowns — 70% further than the targeted goal.

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