A shortage of cars on the Long Island Rail Road is a threat to the railroad’s ability to provide enough service to riders, agency watchdogs tell the Daily News.

“Basically, now everything is rolling,” said Gerry Bringmann, head of the LIRR Commuter Council. “We don’t have anything in reserve.”

So far, the MTA says, the shortage has had little or no impact on service — including the LIRR’s service to Grand Central Terminal, which began in January.

MTA spokeswoman Kayla Shultz said that rolling stock issues had not contributed to any delays over the recent Labor Day holiday, traditionally a busy time for the railroad.

“We don’t have any reports of scheduling issues related to rolling stock,” she said.

But federal regulators have worried about the problem for years. They raised the issue in 2017 by saying the LIRR’s plans to start the Grand Central service required new rolling stock.

“[Federal regulators are] concerned about the continued schedule slippage of the LIRR vehicle procurement program,” federal transit officials wrote in a July 2017 report on East Side Access, the project that would be rebranded as Grand Central Madison when it opened years late in January.

The MTA had planned to start LIRR Grand Central service with 160 new M9A rail cars in its quiver. But the feds expressed doubt that it could happen.

“Based on the latest LIRR vehicle procurement summary … the only way [East Side Access]
will have its planned fleet of 160 new M9A vehicles available by the December 2022 [deadline] is to
award the competitive procurement to the present M9 carbuilder,” the Federal Transit Administration said in 2017.

When full Grand Central Madison service got underway in February, the LIRR ran 936 trains each day — an increase of 46% from the 640 trains it ran system-wide when the railroad’s only Manhattan service was to Penn Station.

The first of the M9s, built by Kawasaki, hit the tracks in 2019, and the last of the 202 M9s are due to be delivered this month. There are currently 176 M9 cars carrying passengers on the LIRR. They are among a fleet of 1,104 pieces of passenger rolling stock in the electric fleet.

It’s unclear when the needed M9A cars will even be ordered. The MTA has yet to award the contract for the new M9As to anyone.

“The MTA is actively engaged in negotiations for the procurement of M9A cars,” agency spokeswoman Joana Flores said in a statement. “This procurement has been significantly delayed predominantly due to changes in market conditions and the direct and residual impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The M9s are among three types of cars that make up the LIRR electric passenger rail fleet.

The oldest of the cars is the M3, which went into service in the mid 1980s. There are currently 100 M3s in operation on the Long Island Rail Road, an MTA spokesperson told The News. M3s were most recently put to use providing shuttle service between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica station.

The bulk of the fleet is made up of M7s, which came into service in the early 2000s. There are 828 M7s in service with the LIRR today.

Bringmann, who represents LIRR riders on the MTA’s board as a non-voting member, said he worried the railroad would have a hard time increasing capacity in the future, with the new M9As  coming only in time to replace the nearly 40-year-old M3s.

“By the time the M9As roll in, we’ll have no choice but to replace the M3s that are going out of service,” he said.

At a May meeting of the MTA’s board, Jamie Torres-Springer, the agency’s head of construction and development, described the negotiations for the M9A contract as “complex.”

“The procurement for M9A is still under negotiation,” he said. “It is a very complex negotiation. We expect to have news on that in the coming months.”

Evan Simko-Bednarski

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