All Aboard The Gov. M. Jodi Rell!

Allan Appel Photo Riders noticed the spiffy self-flushing toilets, the doors between cars that open two-at-a-time at the touch of a button, five audio and visual location displays in every car, and bright new crimson-and-tan seats with headrests for all and a grip material that keeps your tush from slipping onto the floor.

Meanwhile Motoki Nagano and the Kawasaki engineers wrestled with their most difficult technical challenge ever in the hundred-year old history of the company: 22 miles of wire and cable in every one of Metro-North’s new M-8 train cars.

That’s what riders learned on the inaugural voyage of “The Governor M. Jodi Rell.”

Monday morning the governor took reporters out on a test voyage of the train named in her honor, one of the red-and-steel-painted fleet of 300 about to roll out 10 a month beginning in December if tests continue go well. The demonstration trip started at New Haven’s Union Station and ended in Fairfield.

Rell, the engineers, and state Department of Transportation (DOT) officials who accompanied her were so pleased with the new trains that the state is ordering 42 more. The first 300 cost $760 million; the next 42 will cost $100 million. All the money was bonded back in 2005, Rell said.

As the train accelerated smoothly out of the station, Nagano demonstrated (with the help of a translator) ergonomically designed seats made of a silicone fiber firmer. They’re firmer than the old seats. He showed off a vinyl exterior that’s altogether more stable.

There was less squealing and katchunking and rocking too. That was due to a new truck design: the underside of each car is designed with rubberized airbags between wheel and chassis, along with individual axle control at each wheel.

The biggest challenge, according to Nagano: “[all] the specs, AC and DC.”

He meant that the electrically complex cars need to be able to run on the overhead wires with AC current as well as the DC current of the third rail. Plus they are designed to be utilized in Shoreline service as well as in New York City. The Metropolitan Transit Authority owns 35 percent of the fleet; Connecticut owns 65.

According to DOT’s Rail Administrator Gene Colonese, much of the testing has been about seeing how compatible the multiple power capabilities are with the various subsystems along the track and the existing signals. And so far so good.

DOT’s Rail Operations Project Engineer Charles Clark liked both what he could see and not see. “The audio adjusts to the ambient noise,” he said, meaning passengers had complained of not hearing announcements in current trains. Now they’ll hear them from every seat. If the car is noisy, volume can be raised.

He also figured the conductors as well as moms with their hands full would love the doors that now open, both the door to the car you are leaving and the one you are entering, with the touch on the “press” sign. They’re pocket doors. They slide, as opposed to the current fleet, whose doors take up space by opening inward as well as require a Herculean arm.

Clark pointed out that not only do the new seats contain a “little grip in the material,” a noticeable texture to keep them from becoming slippery too soon; but the center seat in the three-seater is somewhat bigger than in the previous design.

Why? “To entice” American riders who, unlike Europeans, seem shy to take that center seat, said James Fox, also with DOT rail operations.

“All the bells and whistles” end up on a central diagnostic system touch screen console for the operator of the train, said Clark, which to him was the technological wonder.

That explains those 22 miles of wire and cable.

Deputy Assistant Chief Mechanical Officer Frank Schweithelm, whose job it is to fix these trains, agreed. The screen provides so much info through so many sensors, “We can trouble shoot repairs en route,” he said.

The ride for him was a quiet thrill. When the train pulled into Fairfield – it brakes using motors first, which process regenerates electricity, before actual brakes kick in —he pronounced the trip absolutely “smoother and quieter.”

He said he was very happy at this. Like Governor Rell, it was his first ride on the new M-8. “I spend all my time fixing these,” he said, with the implication that there would be a lot less of that to do.

When she stepped out in Fairfield, Rell pronounced the trip “absolutely fantastic.” She said she had ridden part of the journey in the front car and it was as exciting as being a kid in the cockpit of a plane for the first time.

The first 30 Kawasaki cars were built in Japan. U.S. Kawasaki’s Chief Executive Officer Hiroji Iwasaki (pictured with Rell and DOT Commissioner Jeffrey Parker) said the next 300 or so will be built in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Of the 25 sub-suppliers, only the lighting contractor, Translite of Milford, is Connecticut based. Its work, however, in all the new fluorescent overheads and ambient fixtures is significant making the short trip to Fairfield seem bright and maybe even optimistic.

Colonese said, however, that the “runs will not be faster” because we’re “tied to the constraints of the infrastructure.”

DOT Engineers said the new New Haven rail repair shop would cut the ribbon at the end of 2012; it’s being designed with fixing the new M-8 fleet in mind.

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posted by: david french on November 16, 2010  9:28am

And the fact that it took Rell 8 years to get off her ass to get these. Malloy will do better.

posted by: The Count on November 16, 2010  2:19pm

Oh, yes, and the fare increase, er, “adjustment” kicks in on December 30th. Good timing, eh?

posted by: anon on November 16, 2010  4:43pm

Sad that ConnDOT couldn’t figure out a way to incorporate adequate space for bicycles in the new designs.

Most other rail systems in the world (and many in the U.S.) incorporate bicycles, which solve the dreaded “last mile problem” for large numbers of commuters. 

In terms of ridership, Metro North is the busiest commuter rail line in the United States, and deserves better.

ConnDOT is clearly stuck in the 1950s, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this.

posted by: doug on November 16, 2010  6:49pm

I think it’s time we launched a “trails to rails” program in CT… (snark)

posted by: robn on November 16, 2010  8:27pm

Gosh,

It must be fun to spend a billion dollars of other peoples money and then name the trains after yourself. Almost as bad as flying into “Reagan” National Airport.

posted by: Chris on November 17, 2010  10:04am

Lots of negative comments by people who clearly dont ride MTA.  I am very happy to see these cars finally arrive!  Good work to all.

posted by: robn on November 17, 2010  10:11am

CHRIS,

The cars are great and I love the Herbert Matter color schemes, but I don’t think the outgoing guv (who I admittedly have a low opinion of) should stamp her name on the outside of a train. Its not hers, its ours.

posted by: doc. on November 21, 2010  2:26pm

...Gee…clinton got a whole lot done with a republican congress. face it Rell was a waste of space who stayed popular by doing nothing and living off revenues from the casino’s (go check it out 100% true) and fairfield county she did nothing.
The things that did happen were actually started by Rowland…including the train cars.