Discussion relating to the operations of MTA MetroNorth Railroad including west of Hudson operations and discussion of CtDOT sponsored rail operations such as Shore Line East and the Springfield to New Haven Hartford Line

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  by DutchRailnut
West of Hudson Commuters to ride in style
New Comet V train cars head into service

By Judy Rife
Times Herald-Record
[email protected]

The new train cars that commuters are going to ride for the next 30 years are coming on line at a steady clip now.
The first Comet Vs, sleek stainless steel shells formed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and furnished in Hornell, N.Y., surprised commuters March 15.
Several more trains of these $1.1 million cars are now plying the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines.
By April 30, some 30 new cars will be in service and by Aug. 31, the other 35 will have been delivered.
"Our ability to replace our entire west-of-Hudson fleet is going to make a huge difference in comfort and reliability for our customers almost overnight,'' said Tim McCarthy, Metro-North's director of capital engineering.
This $71 million investment in new equipment, and $51 million worth of improvements to parking lots and stations as well as rail yards, signals, tracks and sidings, has also given the railroad the ability to grow its service as Orange and Rockland counties grow.
Over the past two decades, the growth in the number of people who commute to work in Manhattan from the western suburbs in New York and New Jersey has eclipsed the growth from the north and the east – 89 percent to 11 percent. There is no reason to expect the trend to change; this is, after all, where the vacant land is.
NJ Transit is responding to the same growth pressure. It spent $450 million on the Secaucus transfer (Metro-North contributed $50 million) to connect 10 of its 11 rail lines and give more commuters access to Penn Station in Midtown. And it bought 200 Comet Vs and refurbished 200 Comet IIs to eliminate standees and extend service to new communities.
But the impact of the new cars goes beyond more trains and longer trains to carry more people.
McCarthy and Walter Cross, NJ Transit's major projects manager, think the Comet V's computerized diagnostics and modular components will gradually revolutionize car maintenance.
Repair crews, for starters, can now climb aboard with laptops to diagnose what ails a Comet V – or simply pop out a flash card and review it back at the shop.
"When something fails, it will be a much simpler fix on these cars,'' said McCarthy. "We'll change the piece and put the car back in service and then work on the component in the shop. We'll keep that $1 million asset on the road, keep our costs under better control. This is what we've been driving toward for the last five years."
Hundreds of the aging electric cars that Metro-North uses east-of-Hudson were sidelined for weeks this winter when snow shorted out motors and brakes. Dozens of trains were canceled or abbreviated while the railroad waited for parts or room at its yards to repair the cars.
Cross's favorite example of a simpler fix is the Comet V's modular air conditioning system – since being too cold or too hot is second in importance to commuters after getting there on time.
"Our down time is now a half-day instead of two days,'' said Cross. "We'll have spares [at $15,000 to $20,000] on the shelf, so when one fails, we can just lift it off and replace it and send the car back out in two to four hours. There's no more Freon, no more of the environmental issues associated with Freon. No emptying the Freon, removing the unit, repairing the unit, replacing the unit, recharging the unit."
None of the air conditioning systems, however, has failed on a Comet V yet. In these early days, almost everything that's gone wrong – doors that don't open, announcements that aren't made – has been traced to bugs in the computer software.
"Interoperability is always an issue when you get new equipment and try to integrate it with old equipment,'' said Cross. "It's one of the things we live with all the time in this business, and right now, we're replacing 60 percent of our fleet – that's 400 new or refurbished cars."
Alstom Transportation, the Comet V manufacturer and Comet II refurbisher, has 24 machinists and engineers at NJ Transit's rail yards in Kearny and Port Morris to test newly minted cars once they arrive from Hornell, and then fine-tune their operation after they are put in service. These ongoing inspections – the cars are warranted for two years – cause ongoing modifications to the Comet V's design.
Metro-North has unexpectedly benefited from these routine processes because its share of the Comet Vs is coming off the assembly line a year late.
"The fixes that they've instituted are proving successful in the field but we're still prepared for some growing pains,'' said McCarthy. "When you're spending $1 million a car, you want them to be perfect and you keep at it until they are."
Comet V production was suspended a year ago when Alstom's subcontractor for the trucks, or the wheel-and-axle assemblies, closed its doors in Columbus, Ohio. At the same time, Alstom's parent company in Paris was seeking a bailout from the French government and reeling from an accounting scandal in Hornell.
The scandal, which the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI are still investigating, prompted Alstom to fire two executives in Hornell for allegedly cooking the books to hide cost overruns on the Comet V contract. It was Alstom's first big one after setting up shop in the United States – and it was $60 million lower than the next lowest bid.
So the pricetag for the first stainless steel cars in the NJ Transit and Metro-North fleets was a steal from the start. They'd cost at least $1.5 million today.
In ditching aluminum shells, the railroads got a safer car, one that can withstand a head-on collision, as well as a quieter and smoother ride for commuters. It has bigger windows, brighter lights, push-button doors, lumbar supports, automatic flush toilets and continuous GPS-linked station identification too.
Or, as McCarthy puts it: "They're bright, shiny and new, and we expect to get 30 years out of them. Maybe 35."

  by JoeG
I had one experience of getting a solid consist of C5's on a PJ express. (They were NJT cars, however, not MN.) There was one big problem. The usual 5 car consist of the train was replaced with a 5 car C5 consist. Since the C5's have significantly fewer seats than the old cars, the train was jam-packed! I hope the geniuses at NJT take this into account and add a car when using the C5's but I'm pessimistic. We could end up having shiny new cars with big windows, but having to stand!