In a Hercules Poirot moment, Jim Cameron, Connecticut Commuter Rail Council’s Chair, finally secured a confession.
After 22 days of sleuthing and constant querying, Cameron says he heard back from the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Metro-North regarding the mystery. And the verdict is: mixed.
“I’m disappointed we’re weren’t getting more candor from DOT and Metro North on the status of this,” Cameron told The Hub.
According to the DOT, the earthquake didn’t impact delivery, but “assessment of the impacts of the earthquake in Japan on car production (including impacts to suppliers) continues.”
“I am trying to gather some additional information, but the earthquake/tsunami did not have a direct impact on the production of ,” said Judd Everhart, a spokesman for Connecticut Department of Transportation.
So it appears that last month’s 8.9 earthquake in Japan will derail delivery of the new cars after a fashion. Not because the Kawasaki steel production plant in Fukishima Prefecture sits near the area affected by radiation exposure, but because of stateside production glitches.
But answers remain hazy. Because though the DOT reportedly told Cameron the earthquake didn’t affect production in Lincoln, it also said a production error by a parts supplier closed the Lincoln plant for nearly a month.
The Kawasaki plant makes the M-8 underframe, which bolsters the cars’ bottom in case of collision. The first 38 M-8 cars were built in Japan, but the rest of the cars will be built in a Lincoln, Nebraska plant.
To date 26 new cars have been delivered. Of those 20 are in service.
That means Metro-North can operate two 8 car train sets. The remaining cars need various modifications before being accepted for deployment, according to DOT. Between 60 and 80 cars are expected in service by the end of 2011.
Because there is a time lag for delivery, Cameron said Metro-North might consider a Critical System Replacement, CSR, to fix the oldest cars. Those tend to break down often.
“A "critical system replacement" program for the older cars in under consideration, but no decisions have been made,” Everhart said.
Metro-North already put several cars through the CSR program and they did very well, Cameron said. Those that didn’t go through froze and got stuck during the past winter.
But CSR costs money, and transportation money isn’t abundant.
“The DOT is in a hard place,” Cameron said. “We have a governor who supports mass transit but doesn't have much money to put into it.”
Even if things on time, there wouldn’t have been a sizable number of cars for a few more winters.
And that has some members of the Transportation Committee frustrated.
State Rep. Fred Camillo, a Republican who represents Greenwich in the 151st House District, has learned not to talk about it until he knows for sure.
“Every time I put out an update, it’s wrong,” Camillo said.
Now Camillo is not sending out any updates until further notice. But like so many of his constituents, he’s eager to ride the new cars.
Metro-North is getting riders. According to Cameron’s talking transportation blog, there were 36.67 million riders on New Haven line in 2010, down a bit from 37.13 million in 2009.