Rounded corners in the bathrooms. More comfortable seats. A more pleasing color scheme. These are a few of the suggestions that came from customers and employees of Long Island (N.Y.) Rail Road (LIRR) when it began the long process of modernizing its aging commuter railcar fleet.
“We wanted to get everyone involved in the design process,” says James Dermody, president of LIRR. “We actually had customers come in and test the seats and pick out colors they liked. Their opinions were important to us.” Meanwhile, employees said rounded corners in the bathroom would make them easier to clean.
This information-gathering process was part of an ambitious, highly expensive fleet replacement program that started in 1999, when LIRR placed its first order for 192 M-7 electric multiple units (EMU) manufactured by Bombardier Transportation.
The first railcars entered service in November 2002. Today, 416 of the railcars are in service, and more are on the way. A total of 678 M-7s were ordered under LIRR’s 2000-04 capital program.
Dermody said 158 more M-7s will be ordered under the LIRR’s 2005-09 capital program for rolling stock and infrastructure. At press time, the capital program had not yet received final approval. Eventually, the rail system will have 836 of the stainless-steel EMUs on the property at a cost of approximately $1.7 billion.
New trains on the block
The M-7s represent the third generation of electric railcars operated by LIRR. They’re replacing a fleet of 742 M-1s built between 1968 and 1971. Dermody expects the M-7s to be in service for 30 to 35 years.
One of the biggest improvements in the M-7s over the M-1s is the switch from a DC to an AC traction motor. Dermody says the DC motors perform better in general, but also are superior in snow, ice and wet weather.
“Another thing that we did to improve reliability and customer comfort is to move a lot of the components from underneath the car to either inside the car or to the roof of the car,” Dermody adds.
To address passenger concerns about comfort levels afforded by heating and air conditioning, LIRR specified redundant air-conditioning/heating systems on the roofs of the cars. “Either one is capable of cooling or heating the car,” Dermody says. “All of that is geared toward performance.”
So far, the M-7s have indeed performed admirably. “From what we’ve seen of the cars, they’re very reliable and have been accepted well by our customers,” says Dermody, who started with the railroad in 1958 as a ticket clerk and worked his way up to senior vice president of operations manager before being named acting president in March 2003. In September 2003, he was named president.
Dermody says the mean distance between failure (MDBF) for the M-7s was specified at 100,000 miles. “Right now, the M-7 cars are averaging about 173,000 miles between failures, which is exceeding our expectations,” he says.
Partnership aids cause
Dermody credits part of the success of the M-7 program to the close working relationship between his staff and representatives of Bombardier. “We’ve worked with them at every stage of the plan, from development to testing to putting them into service,” he says. “We wanted to improve performance and reliability, and it’s paid off.”
The M-7 bodies are fabricated at Bombardier’s La Pocatiere, Quebec, plant. Final manufacturing and assembly takes place at the company’s Plattsburgh, N.Y., plant. Subassembly and manufacturing processes for some components, such as bogie frames, are carried out at Bombardier’s facility in Auburn, N.Y.
The vehicles are fully motorized married pairs, each having a full-width operator’s cab at one end and capable of running at speeds up to 100 mph. Dermody says they’re equipped with a diagnostic system that allows their major functions to be monitored at all times from the command center. He adds that LIRR maintenance staff have been well satisfied with the M-7’s performance thus far.
Commuter rail leader
Chartered in 1834, LIRR is the oldest and largest commuter rail system in the U.S., carrying an average of 262,000 customers each weekday on 735 daily trains. It’s a subsidiary of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It covers 700 miles of track on 11 branches, from Montauk on the eastern end of Long Island to midtown Manhattan, about 120 miles.
In addition to modernizing its M-7 electric car fleet, LIRR also has replaced its 1950s-vintage diesel train fleet with 23 diesel locomotives, 23 dual-mode locomotives and 134 bilevel coaches. The dual-mode units can operate in both diesel and electrified territory, enabling customers to travel between Long Island and Manhattan without changing trains.
Despite the introduction of the new railcars over the past few years, ridership at LIRR has been down. Dermody says the weak economy bears most of the blame. “But ridership is slowly increasing,” he says. “Our one-way ridership has been showing steady improvement, and commutations are coming back up again. Our weekend ridership has been improving also.”
The agency has been working to drive its on-time performance from 93% to 94%, but had been hampered by unseasonably bad weather, Dermody says. “Given our density of trains and the type of system that we operate, we’d like to see it at 94% or maybe 94.5%.”
Despite its strong reliance on electrical power, LIRR has been affected by the rising cost of diesel fuel. “It’s something we watch at all times,” Dermody says. “It’s something that translates into an increased price of electricity because the suppliers just pass along the increased fuel costs. The cost of everything is going up