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.