July 20--Connecticut has placed an additional $93 million order of 25 M-8 railcars from the Kawasaki Rail Car Corp., marking another step toward scrapping the state's fleet of aged and damage-prone cars, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday.
"This past winter underscored the ongoing problems with our aging train fleet, with frequent breakdowns and many cars out of service on any given day," Malloy said. "Investing now in additional railcars will pay off for years to come."
The new New Haven Line cars will lack propulsion and are to be deployed as part of M-8 car sets to handle overcrowding, Metro-North Railroad spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
"They will be much like coach cars with all the same bells and whistles of the other M-8s except the traction motors," Anders said.
Buying the new cars, which will augment the 24 now in use, will also allow full replacement of the state's existing 337-car fleet and kills a plan of the state Department of Transportation and Metro-North to spend tens of millions to rehabilitate critical systems of the New Haven line's M-4 and M-6 cars, DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said.
"The main advantage is it allows us to retire the M-4s and M-6s," Anders said. "Because the M-8s will be brand new and reliable they will have a much lower shop count than the older cars and will be able to replace them."
The agreement between Kawasaki and the state also includes an option for 10 to 25 more cars that would need to be acted on by June 20, 2013.
Malloy intends to request Connecticut's $60.5 million share of the new cars' cost at the next state Bond Commission meeting on July 29; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has already budgeted its $32.5 million share of the cost.
The governor said the decision to buy additional cars is more prudent than investing in a program to revamp older M-4 and M-6 equipment for several more years.
An analysis by Metro-North estimated rebuilding the motor, braking, and other systems on the older cars would cost $33 million.
"It makes far more economic sense to invest in new and much more reliable cars now, rather than trying to keep our aging fleet running for a few more years," Malloy said. "Our commuters have been especially patient as we rebuilt the fleet. We owe it to them to maintain our investments."
Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron said the long-range benefits of additional M-8 railcars overshadow any short-term payoff that revamping older cars would yield.
Since last winter, when more than 80 inches of snow kept more than half the state's railcars out of service at various points, revamping older cars had been touted as an expensive contingency plan to maintain service levels while M-8 cars gradually arrived.
"If we can get through this next winter or two, we'll have a completely brand new fleet with one kind of car, which will make it easier to maintain and certainly increase reliability," Cameron said.
Everhart said the DOT hasn't decided if it will convert any of the state's projected fleet of 405 M-8 railcars to bar cars.
In the past, DOT officials had said rather than paying Kawasaki to build new bar cars, the DOT would consider retrofitting some M-8 cars into bar cars.
Terri Cronin, an East Norwalk commuter and vice chairwoman of the commuter council, said she hoped the DOT would revamp the older cars to provide extra cars if delivery of the state's new M-8 cars remained slow.
Delivery delays mean that only a maximum of 60 of the more weather-durable M-8 cars will be available for service by December.
"We need to have something in place to keep the trains running," Cronin said. "It's great news that they are buying 25 new cars, but they should also be thinking of fixing some old cars."
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