The new M9 LIRR train on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019...

The new M9 LIRR train on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 in Hicksville. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The LIRR is still not doing enough to hold accountable the manufacturer of its long-delayed and problem-plagued fleet of new trains, including by failing to insist that the company fix defective rail cars before delivering them to the railroad, a new state audit found.

The audit by the office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli updates a March 2022 report that included a dozen recommendations to address mounting delays and cost overruns in the Long Island Rail Road’s $733.6 million purchase of 202 “M9” cars from Kawasaki Rail Car Inc.

The LIRR and its parent organization, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, have failed to comply with half the earlier recommendations, according to the report, including by refusing to require that Kawasaki make fixes to car defects at its own plant in Pueblo, Colorado, rather than wait until after the cars are delivered to the railroad.

In a statement, MTA spokesman David Steckel said the transit authority has “strong leadership" managing Kawasaki and its suppliers, and will “continue to work with them to ensure the full order of M9 trains is integrated into the fleet to provide our riders with the excellent service they expect and deserve.”

Kawasaki did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Although the railroad has said that some of the cars' problems were not discovered until they were delivered, the audit said that some tests that were supposed to be conducted at Kawasaki's facility never were, and that “issues disclosed by other tests were not addressed.”

The railroad has also failed to notify Kawasaki that it “will not pay for increased costs related to … work not completed to contract specifications as well as increased consultant costs and LIRR’s administrative and oversight costs,” the audit found.

According to the audit, the railroad has said Kawasaki is “well aware” of its financial responsibility, and that the “LIRR plans to address this at the end of the contract.”

According to the audit, the railroad has calculated that Kawasaki already owes $4.9 million in damages. But, DiNapoli's office noted that the LIRR has not followed up on a recommendation to “create a formal procedure to periodically assess and collect the liquidated damages."

The audit also noted that since the 2022 report, the railroad’s budget for the fleet purchase has increased by $2.1 million to $735.7 million.

“The MTA needs to focus on providing the best possible experience for riders so that they want to return to the transit system," DiNapoli said in a statement. “It’s making progress, but as our follow up audit shows, it can do more. The MTA should hold contractors accountable for delivering rail cars that need repairs before they’re even put into service.”

As of October, the LIRR said it has 176 M9 cars in service, with another two undergoing testing and expected to join the fleet soon. It expects the remaining two dozen cars to arrive by May — four years later than originally planned.

The rollout of the new cars has been plagued by delays, many of which the LIRR has blamed on Kawasaki. Since the first cars began arriving about four years ago, the LIRR has regularly had to send them back to the manufacturer to address what it called “workmanship issues” resulting in test failures, including faulty wiring, incorrect installation of vestibule flooring and problems with bathroom doors.

The railroad has said that COVID-related supply chain issues and parts shortages among the few manufacturers in the train car industry have compounded delays.

The new cars — dubbed the “unicorns” by some commuters because of their scarcity — aim to bolster the LIRR’s fleet of about 1,100 electric train cars, which have been stretched thin by service increases that came with the opening of Grand Central Madison earlier this year. New rail cars would also allow the LIRR to retire some of its oldest trains, the M3s, which are nearing their 40th birthday.

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