Riders on Metro-North just got an early holiday gift from the railroad and the state Department of Transportation — a bright, shiny new train set. It’s not a toy, but real! We’ve been promised 94 more M8 rail cars! And just in time (though they won’t start arriving until 2019).
We’ve been enjoying the new M8 cars since their introduction in 2011 and they have proved highly reliable. Unlike the old M2 cars, many of which were older than the passengers who rode in them and were prone to breakdowns each winter, the new M8 cars are champions. They go over 460,000 miles between mechanical breakdowns, which is 53 percent better than the railroad’s own goals for the Kawasaki-designed and built cars.
In their own words:
Reader reactions to “Getting There” column on strategies to slow down drivers:
I walk on fairly rural roads in Kent CT and, in my opinion, drivers are already going too slow. Worse, they either slow down and stare at me walking along like they expect me to dive into the poison ivy, or they pull into the opposite lane at speed.
I, personally, may have a fat a**, but I know for a fact that even my rural roads are wide enough for two cars and a pedestrian side by side. Tell Connecticut drivers to stop slowing down all stalker-y, and definitely to stop risking the death of everyone in an oncoming vehicle just to avoid one pedestrian by a full lane width.
On the other hand, when I’m driving, “Drive like your kids live here” looks an awful lot like “Drive like you own the place!”
— Roberta Moran
‘Why is it that kids are playing in the streets, anyway, when they have perfectly good lawns and nearby parks? Do they think they’re living on the Lower East Side’ … insensitive! unaware! wrong metaphor!
— Stephen Milman
Each Monday I look forward to your “GETTING THERE” articles and sit nodding in agreement with most of them. Today’s really got to me. We live on Westway Rd. in Southport (the poor end) between the Metro North bridge and the turnpike bridge. The Metro North air horns I will save for another rant in a different e-mail.
Each morning between 7:00 am and 9:30 am the commuter traffic passes by our house averaging 60 mph. That isn’t a really bad speed for I-95 but the speed limit on Westway Rd. is 25 mph. The rush hour between 4:00 and 6;00 pm isn’t quite as bad as most of them are returning to loving families instead of work. I have e-mailed an acquaintance at the Fairfield police Dept. and I do realize that we are not the only neighborhood experiencing this problem. This morning two youngsters walking to the bus stop (no sidewalks here) were almost eliminated from that loving family category.
— Karl Kery age 74 retired and tired
Work on the M8’s started in 2006 with an initial order of 300 cars. Another 80 cars were optioned in 2011 and 25 more single, unpowered cars were then added to the fleet, bringing the total to the 405 cars we have today. (When the newest cars start arriving in three years, the last of the old M2 cars will finally be scrapped).
Because of their unique design, operating on three different power systems, the M8 cars were not cheap. The first cars cost $2.3 million but Kawasaki is now commanding $3.8 million for the 60 now on order and $3.7 million for another 34 cars on option. Part of the price hike is attributed to improved design and addition of the long-awaited Positive Train Control system that could help avoid crashes and other safety equipment like closed circuit TV.
The state will cover 65 percent of the costs and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will bear the other 35 percent. Our share will probably be paid for through bonding. Ten planned “Café Cars,” to be fabricated from older, original M8 cars, will be completely paid for by Connecticut.
Why is the railroad going to all of this expense? Because it became victim of its own success: ridership has been soaring in recent years.
When the first M8 cars were ordered, Metro-North thought it would have enough cars to handle ridership until 2020. But we blew through those numbers years early. That meant more passengers than seats and crowded, often times standing room only conditions at rush hour.
Why the surge in ridership? A stronger economy, which means more jobs in New York City. Worsening traffic on I-95, which makes the train an attractive alternative. The railroad’s reliability, even in the winter. And yes, people really like the new cars with their power plugs at every row, working heating and air conditioning systems and pleasing design.
All of those attractions have seemed stronger than the negatives to train-taking: lower gas prices, higher rail fares and insufficient station parking.
So the question now is, are we ordering enough new cars to keep up with demand? Given the three year lag-time between ordering and delivery, will a 499-car fleet be enough if ridership keeps growing as fast, if not faster?
As new cars start arriving in 2019 they’ll first be used to add capacity to existing trains to deal with rush-hour crowding. As more cars arrive, 24 of our M8’s will be shifted over to Shore Line East service between New London and New Haven. And maybe, if we’re lucky, by 2020 we’ll have enough cars to actually increase service, adding more trains to the timetable.
If we don’t want to waste billions of dollars on Governor Malloy’s idea to “widen I-95,”, let’s instead invest in our railroad and order more cars now.
Jim Cameron is a longtime commuter advocate based in Fairfield County. Contact him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com