Despite some challenges along the way in the now 36-month-old project, the first of the new M-8 passenger cars for Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven line are about to be constructed, according to Joseph F. Marie, commissioner of the state’s Department of Transportation.
Appearing in Norwalk on Thursday at a meeting of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, Marie said the state has inspectors in Kobe, Japan, where the initial M-8 “pilot” cars will be built. He said a test team for the state is preparing to conduct the first of a series of static tests on the pilot cars to confirm the functionality of their equipment.
“We need to prove that what has been designed on paper will really work,” Marie said.
The first of the M-8 cars will be built in Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ factory in Kobe. Once the go-ahead for full production is received, the remainder of the $750 million, 300 car order will be constructed at Kawasaki’s rail plant in Nebraska.
Marie said Kawasaki “has a very solid track record of deliveries in the United States.”
Marie said the cars built in Japan will be sent by ship to Baltimore, and then delivered by rail to New Haven, where further “integrated acceptance and performance testing” will occur. He said extensive testing will be required because the new cars will be introducing 21st century technology to a rail system built with 20th century technology.
The testing here will take several months and will occur at night, Marie said, adding he hoped some M-8 cars could be put into revenue service in 2010.
Marie said Kawasaki is responsible for the fabrication of the cars’ bodies and wheel trucks, while components such as doors, propulsion systems, and brakes are coming from suppliers from throughout the U.S.
He said as production ramps up in Nebraska, ConnDOT hopes Kawasaki can eventually manufacture ten to 14 cars a month, which he said would represent an extremely aggressive production schedule.
Marie said when all of the new cars are in service, New Haven’s total number of cars will rise from today’s 385 to 520, which will result in an 18-to-20 percent increase in seating capacity.
Marie said the average age of the cars on the New Haven line is 29 1/2 years, which he said may be the oldest in the country. He said the ideal average age for rail cars is 15 to 17 years, with a useful life of 30 to 35 years.
Marie said he hoped the state would be able to take advantage of an option in its contract with Kawasaki to purchase an additional 80 M-8 cars, saying the price per car “is pretty darn good.”