by John Dankosky - The Chairman of Connecticut’s Commuter Rail Council wants to know why new Metro-North train cars still aren’t in service. He’s asked officials from the manufacturer and the company testing the cars to attend a meeting tonight in Stamford.
The new Kawasaki M8 cars were purchased six years ago at a cost of $866 million dollars. They were meant to solve a big problem on the busiest commuter train service in America – the Metro-North New Haven line.
“The cars we have are a legacy of the neglect that the state has paid to transportation for decades. They are 35 years old – they’re older than many of the passengers on the trains – they’re falling apart,” said Jim Cameron, the Chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. ”The real question is where are the new M8 cars?”
Well, the answer is, they’ve been delayed again and again – first by a shortage of steel to make the cars, then because of problems found during testing. Cameron has asked – unsuccessfully – for officials from Kawasaki and LTK, the consultants running the testing to appear in front of his council. They’re not expected to be at the Commuter Council’s gathering at Stamford’s Government Center at 7 p.m. tonight.
“I don’t understand why commuters can’t get a straight answer from consultants that are getting paid 27 million dollars, who are involved with this testing on a daily basis, why these trains aren’t in service,” Cameron told WNPR’s Where We Live.
And, Cameron says they’re desperately needed, with the current fleet of cars being decimated by winter weather. Because so many of the older cars are out of service, Metro-North has cut back its schedule on the New Haven line by ten percent. Cameron says the new cars would help during what he’s called a “winter crisis.”
“Interim commissioner Parker of the DOT testified two weeks ago that the trains will probably be in service mid to late February. Hello…it’s mid February, and their trains are no closer to being in service,” Cameron said.
DOT Commissioner Jeffrey Parker told Where We Live that the trains are in the final stage of testing, and should meet that deadline. ”As I’ve always said, the testing is dynamic, and problems could crop up that would delay us, but as I stand here today, that’s what we’re headed for,” Parker said.
And, Parker says that commuters should separate the long-term need for new rail cars, and the problems caused by the worst winter weather in decades. He said that even if the new M8s were in service, it wouldn’t have led to “salvation” for the New Haven Line riders, jammed onto overcrowded trains.
Parker said the crowding on trains isn’t “terrible” this winter, but says that, on average, 1,000 to 2,00o more people are standing during their commutes than usual with the reduced schedule. That’s out of 140,00 people a day. But, Parker admits, “I’ve been on those trains, and forced to stand, and it’s not a comfortable thing.”
As for Cameron’s repeated request for Kawasaki and LTK to attend tonight’s commuter forum to answer questions about the delay, Parker doesn’t see the need. He’ll be there, he says, along with a project official from Metro-North. ”We really don’t want to have a real in-depth complex conversation about the inner workings of the car,” Parker told me. ”Bringing in an electrical engineer who knows how the car works internally is not the best use of time for us.”
Tonight’s meeting of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council takes place at 7 p.m. at Stamford’s Government Center.