A consultant said the final batch of new new M9...

A consultant said the final batch of new new M9 trains, seen here in 2019, won't be rolled out until December. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The remaining cars in the Long Island Rail Road’s new train fleet — already delayed by three years — won’t roll out until December, three months later than the LIRR’s most recent projection, according to an independent consultant working with the railroad on the more than $730 million project.

But LIRR officials, whose existing fleet has been stretched thin with the recent opening of Grand Central Madison, believe they will have their last 38 “M9” cars by September, as they have been predicting for a year.

Beyond offering new comforts for passengers, the M9s could go a long way toward addressing capacity issues that have frustrated commuters since the railroad overhauled its service plan for the opening of Grand Central Madison in February.

To accommodate added service to the new terminal, the railroad has operated some trains with far fewer cars than usual, contributing to crowding conditions. The LIRR last year also dusted off 100 of its 1980s-era M3 train cars, which had been in storage for about three years, and put them back into service to help meet the growing demand.

The railroad gave its annual update on its M9 fleet at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital construction committee Monday. Nearly four years after the first of the new cars rolled out, the LIRR now has 164 M9 cars in service. The relative scarcity of the M9s — among an overall fleet of 1,090 electric cars — has led to many commuters dubbing the new trains the “unicorns” of the LIRR system.

It’s been a decade since the LIRR awarded Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. a contract to manufacture the new fleet. The LIRR ordered 92 cars in 2013, and in 2017 expanded the order to 202. The M9 cars feature amenities including LED lights, electrical outlets at every row of seats, and push-button automatic doors between cars.

But the project has been plagued with problems from the outset. Numerous issues, from design flaws to test failures to a derailment of the first set of the cars while they were on their way to the LIRR, delayed their arrival by nearly two years. The COVID-19 pandemic and related supply chain issues have worsened delays, officials said.

Since the cars started arriving in 2019, the LIRR has sent many of them back to Kawasaki, citing various “workmanship” problems. In the railroad’s latest progress report, it cited the need for repairs on vestibule flooring “due to installation and process issues,” as well as problems with doors and lavatories, and “other quality issues needing rework.”

Kawasaki officials did not respond to requests for comment.

“Our mandate is not to accept a car until it fully meets the requirements of the contract, has passed simulated operational testing, is determined by the project team to be safe and reliable, and is ready to provide our customers the quality product they deserve,” LIRR acting chief rolling stock officer Anthony Kamanes said at the meeting.

The remaining 38 cars in the LIRR’s order are in “various stages of production, assembly and testing,” including some being put together at Kawasaki’s Yonkers plant, Kamanes said.

Although Kawasaki has required “constant oversight and supervision” by the railroad, Kamanes said the project has remained “on track” over the last year.

But Joseph DeVito, an independent engineer hired by the MTA to consult on the project, said, because of “quality issues, which apply to each car and require time for correction,” he expects the last of the M9s won’t roll out until December, three months later than planned.

MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber called the differing timelines “a healthy debate that I’m sure the [transit] agency would like to win.”

After plummeting in 2020, LIRR ridership has rebounded to around 70% of pre-COVID levels. Last week was the first time since the pandemic began that the railroad carried more than 200,000 passengers on all five weekdays, officials said.

Asked in February whether the delays in the arrival of the M9s were compounding the capacity problems that arose after the opening of Grand Central Madison, LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi responded, “Every car helps.”

For all the problems they've had with the new fleet so far, LIRR officials noted that the M9s that are in service have performed well, exceeding reliability standards set forth in the purchase contract by 86%.

The remaining cars in the Long Island Rail Road’s new train fleet — already delayed by three years — won’t roll out until December, three months later than the LIRR’s most recent projection, according to an independent consultant working with the railroad on the more than $730 million project.

But LIRR officials, whose existing fleet has been stretched thin with the recent opening of Grand Central Madison, believe they will have their last 38 “M9” cars by September, as they have been predicting for a year.

Beyond offering new comforts for passengers, the M9s could go a long way toward addressing capacity issues that have frustrated commuters since the railroad overhauled its service plan for the opening of Grand Central Madison in February.

To accommodate added service to the new terminal, the railroad has operated some trains with far fewer cars than usual, contributing to crowding conditions. The LIRR last year also dusted off 100 of its 1980s-era M3 train cars, which had been in storage for about three years, and put them back into service to help meet the growing demand.

The railroad gave its annual update on its M9 fleet at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital construction committee Monday. Nearly four years after the first of the new cars rolled out, the LIRR now has 164 M9 cars in service. The relative scarcity of the M9s — among an overall fleet of 1,090 electric cars — has led to many commuters dubbing the new trains the “unicorns” of the LIRR system.

It’s been a decade since the LIRR awarded Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. a contract to manufacture the new fleet. The LIRR ordered 92 cars in 2013, and in 2017 expanded the order to 202. The M9 cars feature amenities including LED lights, electrical outlets at every row of seats, and push-button automatic doors between cars.

But the project has been plagued with problems from the outset. Numerous issues, from design flaws to test failures to a derailment of the first set of the cars while they were on their way to the LIRR, delayed their arrival by nearly two years. The COVID-19 pandemic and related supply chain issues have worsened delays, officials said.

Since the cars started arriving in 2019, the LIRR has sent many of them back to Kawasaki, citing various “workmanship” problems. In the railroad’s latest progress report, it cited the need for repairs on vestibule flooring “due to installation and process issues,” as well as problems with doors and lavatories, and “other quality issues needing rework.”

Kawasaki officials did not respond to requests for comment.

“Our mandate is not to accept a car until it fully meets the requirements of the contract, has passed simulated operational testing, is determined by the project team to be safe and reliable, and is ready to provide our customers the quality product they deserve,” LIRR acting chief rolling stock officer Anthony Kamanes said at the meeting.

The remaining 38 cars in the LIRR’s order are in “various stages of production, assembly and testing,” including some being put together at Kawasaki’s Yonkers plant, Kamanes said.

Although Kawasaki has required “constant oversight and supervision” by the railroad, Kamanes said the project has remained “on track” over the last year.

But Joseph DeVito, an independent engineer hired by the MTA to consult on the project, said, because of “quality issues, which apply to each car and require time for correction,” he expects the last of the M9s won’t roll out until December, three months later than planned.

MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber called the differing timelines “a healthy debate that I’m sure the [transit] agency would like to win.”

After plummeting in 2020, LIRR ridership has rebounded to around 70% of pre-COVID levels. Last week was the first time since the pandemic began that the railroad carried more than 200,000 passengers on all five weekdays, officials said.

Asked in February whether the delays in the arrival of the M9s were compounding the capacity problems that arose after the opening of Grand Central Madison, LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi responded, “Every car helps.”

For all the problems they've had with the new fleet so far, LIRR officials noted that the M9s that are in service have performed well, exceeding reliability standards set forth in the purchase contract by 86%.

Timeline of Delays

  • September 2013: The LIRR awards a $355 million contract to Kawasaki Rail Car to manufacture 92 new M9 electric rail cars. The first cars are scheduled to arrive in September 2017, with the entire new fleet in place by March 2018.
  • June 2016: Kawasaki, citing problems in the design phase of the project, pushes its estimated arrival date for the new cars to November 2018.
  • July 2017: The LIRR orders another 110 M9 cars from Kawasaki, at an additional cost of $369 million.
  • October 2018: The first eight M9 cars are damaged in a derailment in a Kawasaki yard in Colorado before they could be delivered to the LIRR. Their rollout is pushed back to May 2019.
  • September 2019: The first eight M9 cars go into service, two years behind schedule. The LIRR expects to have all the cars in service by March 2021.
  • January 2021: The LIRR says its remaining M9 cars have fallen another 13 months behind schedule because of “workmanship issues and failures discovered during on-site testing."
  • June 2022: The final arrival of the M9s is pushed back another 17 months to September 2023, as the project encounters several more problems, including from pandemic-related supply chain issues.
  • May 2023: An independent engineer predicts the final 38 cars in the LIRR’s order will be in place by December 2023, another three months late. The LIRR has 164 M9 cars in service.
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