Investigation into delayed new Metro North train cars

June 29, 2011 8:08:16 PM PDT
In an exclusive investigation, Eyewitness News uncovers emails among rail officials that shed light on the real reasons behind the continued delays for the new rail cars for Metro North's New Haven line.

When last winter storms took out almost half of the New Haven line's 40-year-old fleet, frustrated commuters grew angrier as it became apparent that none of the new M-8 rail cars would be available to relieve the critical shortage.

"They better get police on the trains, there's going to be a lot of angry commuters," said one commuter.

The railroad kept blaming software problems for holding up the new cars.

But documents Eyewitness News obtained through Freedom of Information reveal the manufacturer Kawasaki had a long list of reasons, other than software, for the delays.

"To be disingenuous, to over simplify for whatever reason and tell us that there were just software problems, when this documentation shows otherwise, I think it's a betrayal in public faith," said Jim Cameron, of the CT Metro North Commuter Council.

Documents show that during 2010 when Kawasaki should have been delivering about 10 new trains a month, they were instead filing one letter after another "requesting an extension of time'' for delivery.

They made at least 14 different written requests: delays because of a "heavy rain storm, delays because of port closure, because of a minor train car accident, even delivery delays because of the trains' toilet supplier's financial problems.

"You're trying to say oh my dog ate my homework. You know these are all excuses for other problems that were going on, this documentation is really Kawasaki trying to cover it's backside from legal obligations by not meeting certain deadlines," Cameron said.

Emails Eyewitness News obtained underscores Metro North's growing frustrations with those excuses.

In response to the cancelation of train testing due to a few inches of snow, a Metro North Official asks: "Why does snow stop the tests? It was not that much. We expect to operate in all weather conditions."

In another letter, a Metro North Deputy Director writes to Kawasaki saying, "It is unclear how a one day snow storm could have a three week impact on the conditional acceptance of the cars, it defies logic. He goes on to tell Kawasaki that, "this request wastes everyone's time.''

The emails also reveal that 13 months after the arrival of the first new train car, Kawasaki had yet to accumulate a trouble free mile in testing.

Metro North had hoped to have more than 100 new cars in service by now; they only have 25 with another winter five months away.

Eyewitness News went to the head of the railroad to see what he thinks about all of Kawasaki's delays.

"It is our goal to get the cars here as quickly as possible," said Howard Permut, the Metro North president.

"That's obvious, what do you make of this, this is one request for extension of time, notification of delays, it goes on and on and on, one excuse after the other, what do you make of that?" Hoffer asked.

"Most car contracts this is very normal, the back and forth. The fact is that the contract regulates specific dates and has liquidated damages that go with it and we intend to fully enforce that as part of the contract," Permut said.

"You'll go after those financial damages if necessary?" Hoffer asked.

"Absolutely!" Permut responded.

The CEO of Kawasaki Rail Cars in a statement to Eyewitness News says the delays are not unusual given the complexity of the cars and suppliers and says many of the delays were beyond their control.

They are hoping to have 60 of the 380 new cars on the rails by the end of the year.

But even at that number, Metro North says, the winter could be a real struggle.


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