One month after the Long Island Rail Road’s newest train fleet debuted — two years behind schedule — the LIRR has announced its next generation of cars is already running late.
A contract for the design and manufacture of the railroad’s “M9A” fleet, the successor to the new M9 cars, is at least six months behind schedule — the result of train manufacturers coming back with prices that were too high and delivery dates that were too late, railroad officials said.
“We could not award a contract that the railroad could not afford and accept a delivery schedule of cars far beyond when we require them,” Jim Allen, the LIRR’s director of new rolling stock, told Metropolitan Transportation Authority board members during their meeting Monday in Manhattan.
The railroad initially planned to award the contract by the second quarter of this year, but now said it is targeting January to pick who will build the M9A cars. Allen said the railroad is using the extra time to work with potential bidders to develop technical specifications for a “best and final offer that we feel will allow proposals to offer a price and delivery schedule that the railroad will find acceptable.”
The railroad had planned to roll out the first 88 M9A cars by the time it started running trains to Grand Central Terminal — upon completion of the East Side Access project in late 2022. Those cars eventually will replace the LIRR’s old and dilapidated M3 cars — recognizable by their wood-paneled walls, tattered blue and red vinyl seats, and flickering interior lights.
Because of the delay, about 80 of the antiquated cars will remain in service until as late as 2024, about 40 years after they were introduced, Allen said.
The MTA has set aside about $467 million to buy up to 390 M9A train cars for the LIRR and sister railroad Metro-North. LIRR officials have said the cars will build on some of the improvements in the LIRR’s recently debuted M9 cars, including by adding USB ports to the new electrical outlets at every row of seats.
The rollout of the M9 cars — the first major addition to the LIRR’s fleet in nearly two decades — was riddled with delays, including design problems, software glitches, and a derailment last year that damaged several of the cars before they could be delivered.
The first eight-car M9 train entered service on Sept. 11. The railroad since has steadily added to the fleet, which is now at 14 cars, and expects to roll out its second eight-car M9 train shortly.
Allen said the LIRR expects to add about 10 M9 cars per month until all 202 cars in its initial order are in service by March 2021, at a total cost of about $723 million. The LIRR is negotiating with the cars’ manufacturer, Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., for the purchase of 54 more M9 cars.
Wantagh commuter David Tyskowski, 49, has yet to see one of the M9 cars up close.
“I’ve referred to the new trains as unicorns, because they always talk about them, but no one sees them,” said Tyskowski, who called it “insanity” that he may still be riding the Reagan-era M3 trains five years from now.
“It’s funny how the only thing that doesn’t ever get delayed is raising our rates,” he said.
The LIRR also reported Monday that its on-time performance rate fell in September to 90.5%, as compared to 92.4% in the same month last year. Through September, 92.6% of all LIRR trains have operated on time this year — an improvement over 90.2% over the first nine months of 2018.