While Metro-North has increased the number of new M8 cars running on the New Haven Line to nearly 75 percent of the rolling stock, a high breakdown rate on the new cars continues largely unabated, exacerbating ongoing crowding on the trains.
The M8 cars are expected to go at least 280,000 miles before they break down, but so far they are struggling to make it to 200,000.
When it snows a lot, the breakdown rate is even higher, due to an as-yet unremedied design flaw that allows cooling fans on the cars to suck in snow along the tracks, resulting in electrical shorts.
In February, when more than 27 inches of snow fell, the M8s went only a little more than 122,000 miles before breaking down, on average -- that's only 40 percent of the goal distance.
"These M8s were supposed to be built to withstand the winter and it isn't like a bad winter is a new idea," John Hartwell, vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said. "They need to have this fixed next winter and the performance needs to be better."
The number of rush-hour passengers without seats was 140 on average in January and February on the New Haven Line, compared to 58 in the same time period in 2013.
Ted Cook, a Fairfield resident, said there's a shortage of seats nearly every day on the 5:41 a.m. train he takes.
"The overcrowding has not been eased at all and if anything it seems to be as crowded or more than it once was," Cook said. "To be fair I was told not to expect changes until the May 11 timetable change."
Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan said the railroad is testing a permanent design change to the M8 cars' auxiliary power system to correct the problem of snow causing auxiliary power system cooling fans shorting out.
The cost of the design change and other repairs are being fixed under warranty.
"Although fleet reliability has not yet achieved full expectations, Kawasaki Rail Car is committed to, and contractually required to, implement corrective actions to satisfy the reliability requirements," Donovan said.
The ongoing glitches shouldn't raise long-term doubts about the M8 cars' ability to achieve higher mileage between breakdowns in the future, Donovan said.
This winter the number of M8 cars out of service for retrofits and repairs exceeded the maximum number that could be sidelined while still providing normal service 22 days in January and 13 days in February.
Connecticut chose to go with the Kawasaki-built M8 cars because they are akin in design to the M7 cars introduced in 2002 on the Metro-North Hudson and Harlem lines, and the Long Island Rail Road. The M7 cars, which are built by Canada's Bombardier and not Kawasaki, have a much lower breakdown rate. In 2013 they exceeded their goal of 350,000 miles between breakdowns by more than 33 percent. Read Full Article
Kawasaki Rail Car general counsel Laura Alemzadeh pointed out that the M8 cars stay above Connecticut's requirement that the mileage between breakdowns not go below 160,000. She added that often the changes being made to the cars improve them.
--¦ This is a very highly technologically advanced state-of-the-art car that has been built with a lot of engineering complexity into it," Alemzadeh said.
As of last week, 330 of Connecticut's new M8 cars have been delivered and put into service on the New Haven Line, while the total number of older M2, M4 and M6 cars has been reduced to 119 in total. The M4s and M6s are the least reliable cars, and get mileage between breakdowns well below their 60,000-mile target. They are set to be eliminated later this year.