The first of the Long Island Rail Road's next generation of train cars should be delivered next month, the head of the trains' manufacturer said Wednesday.
Responding to a request from the MTA Board to come before its members and answer for the delays in the rollout of the LIRR's new "M9" trains, Kawasaki Chief Executive Officer Yoshinori Kanehana and a team of executives from the company appeared at the board's monthly meeting in Manhattan and offered assurances that the Japanese manufacturing giant is committed to completing the project promptly.
"It is true that the M9 project has had issues. That is not by anybody's choice. But we have been working diligently to recover as much time as possible," Kanehana said.
In September 2013, the railroad awarded a $1.8 billion contract to Kawasaki to design and manufacture the cars, which are expected to address the LIRR's booming ridership and replace the aging 1980s-era M3 electric cars. LIRR ridership is expected to grow further once the railroad links to Grand Central Terminal in 2022.
The first 92 cars — priced about $403 million — originally were supposed to roll 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.
Kanehana said with about 80 percent of all outstanding problems fixed, he expects the LIRR to begin accepting the first 41 new trains cars "before the end of August." Testing of some of the new trains on the LIRR's tracks was scheduled to commence Wednesday night.
Among the issues still to be resolved, Kawasaki officials said, is a problem with the trains' automatic speed control function and with a new automatic station identification system on the cars. Kawasaki officials said the fix involves fine-tuning the exact location of the LIRR's 124 stations.
"We share the goals set by the LIRR that the M9 cars should be very reliable from day one of passenger service," Kanehana said.
Following a similar approach it took with the contractors behind the MTA's positive train control project, which has been beset with delays, the MTA Board last month sent a letter to Kawasaki executives requesting that they appear before them to answer for the recent problems with manufacturing the new trains.
MTA Board member Kevin Law, who represents Suffolk County, on Wednesday thanked Kanehana and his team for showing respect to the board, and for their "very reassuring" update.
LIRR President Phillip Eng similarly commended Kawasaki officials for attending the meeting in person — a response that he said was "indicative of your commitment."
Also on Wednesday, MTA chairman Patrick Foye announced the creation of a “train speed and safety task force” that will be tasked with finding ways to increase train speeds.
Although the task force, which will be chaired by former Federal Aviation Administration head Jane Garvey, was created to focus on subways, Foye said he will direct its members to also look at the MTA’s commuter railroads — the LIRR and Metro-North — “to improve speeds and add capacity by reviewing civil speed restrictions and making sure that speed signals are properly calibrated.”