Delayed again: More tests for new Metro-North RR cars
Metro-North Railroad is seeking an additional $12 million to retain an engineering firm to continue testing of the state's long-delayed fleet of new rail cars.
The debut of the next generation M-8 railcars has been delayed by more than a year by computer glitches controlling the trains' signaling, on-board diagnostics and other functions
Once the computer problems are addressed, the trains must then travel at least 4,000 miles error free to be placed into service. That testing will be performed by the Ambler, Pa.-based firm of Louis T. Klauder & Associates, which has already earned $15 million for its engineering work on the railcars.
Connecticut Department of Transportation Bureau Chief Jim Redeker said that ongoing issues make it hard to predict when Metro-North Railroad and Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., the car's manufacturer, would have the cars ready for service, but the most recently set deadline of late January or early February is not possible.
"I think what we've said all along is that these are complicated cars and while they are similar to the M-7 cars there are not the same exact set of integration issues," Redeker said. "In the best case we'd have had delivery into revenue service, but we haven't been able to meet the schedule."
Redeker said that the DOT and Metro-North planned for Kawasaki to pay the additional $12 million based on the terms of the contract which set penalties for late delivery.
"There was an agreement in the contract from the time the cars were promised and that's where the liquidated damages come in," Redeker said.
Laura Alemzadeh, general counsel for Kawasaki Rail Corp., said the company declined comment on the ongoing testing of the cars or the potential penalties.
Under the agreement, the consultant would be hired for an additional seven months to oversee Kawasaki's inspections and quality assurance during car testing as well as the production plants in Kobe, Japan and Lincoln, Neb., where the cars are built, according to the request for funding to be voted on by the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Redeker said most of the issues are software-based, including a problem with the central diagnostic system on the cars, which has provided false computer codes to identify problems during test runs.
Other problems impacting the auxiliary power supply system, which ensures the proper amount of electrical current to run the cars is available, and automatic train control, which ensures that engineers know when it is safe to leave a station and the maximum speed of travel are yet to be fixed, Redeker said.
"So much of the cars' operations are software related," Redeker said.
Redeker said he did not believe Kawasaki was liable to pay Connecticut for any lost revenue due to the delay of the implementation of a series of scheduled 1 percent fare increases between 2010 and 2017 that former Gov. M. Jodi Rell delayed earlier this year after pressure from rail advocates.
The fare increase is meant to pay the interest on the bonding to build the rail cars.
While the testing process has included unexpected delays, Metro-North and Kawasaki are confident that once fully vetted the cars will operate reliably on the New Haven Line, Metro-North Railroad spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
"Different things have popped up, but we're going to get it right," Anders said. "We have a full-time team of Metro-North engineers and Kawasaki employees working non-stop on this project and we are convinced we are going to get a first-rate car that will last for decades to come."
Connecticut and Metro-North Railroad are buying the fleet of 342 new railcars jointly at a price of $866 million with the state paying 65 percent, and Metro-North, 35 percent of the cost.
In late December, Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut and state DOT Commissioner Jeffrey Parker announced that engineers were working to fix a problem that came up during late November test runs. Electromagnetic interference from the new cars' propulsion systems was throwing off trackside signal equipment.
Other delays have contributed to the late delivery of the cars, including a problem in 2008 when Kawasaki could not buy the agreed-upon steel needed to build the equipment.
In late 2009, a delay in installing diagnostic software aboard the first cars delivered, halted the start of mechanical and computer components of the cars that controlled speed, braking, restrooms, and doors on the cars.
Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron said that the extended delays could mean there will be too few M-8 cars put into service this year to replace enough of the state's faltering M-2 railcars and ensure more reliable service next winter.
This winter, as many as 78 of the state's fleet of 228 M-2 cars have been knocked out of commission by snowstorms and cold weather, according to the railroad, requiring the railroad to deploy diesel trains to limit the impact on service.
"The introduction of the first set of M-8's is a long way from the solution to the types of problems we've seen this winter," Cameron said. "If they complete testing and begin to receive an average of 10 cars a month, and I say if, it will be a while before most people get a chance to ride them."