While new Metro-North rail cars will make their debut in a month, riders will have to wait at least three years before they can buy a happy hour drink in a bar car.
The Connecticut bond commission will vote Thursday on the purchase of 38 new M-8 railcars, said Metro North press secretary Marjorie Anders. These cars are the last of the 380 cars originally planned to replace the New Haven line’s aging fleet. Bar cars, train cars outfitted for the purpose of selling alcohol with counters and booth seating, are also in the works for the railway, but are taking a backseat to the overall upgrades.
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Seven of the 38 cars may eventually be retrofitted into bar cars, but not until at least 300 of the new Kawasaki M-8s are running on the New Haven line, said Aaron Donovan, Deputy Press Secretary at Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the CT Department of Transportation, said the new bar cars are a secondary consideration to replacing the line’s 40-year-old cars.
“It would not be in the customers’ best interests to start worrying about putting new bar cars on line when we need to have more cars carrying passengers reliably,” Nursick said.
Metro-North is planning to convert regular train cars into bar cars because custom-made Kawasaki bar-cars cost $6 million, Nursick said. Train cars cost $2.5 million, making retrofitting a less expensive option, he added.
Of the 342 purchased cars, 24 rail cars have been delivered and are undergoing tests on the Metro-North line before they are put into revenue service. Nursick said he expects these to be operational in a month.
Though the decision to buy new cars was made in 2005, the arrival of the cars has been delayed because of need for custom-built cars and extensive required testing of trains, Nursick said.
Metro-North cannot buy a train car designed for another rail line because cars must be custom-built to the state’s rail infrastructure specifications, Nursick said.
He added that a worldwide steel shortage also delayed the delivery of the prototype M-8s for about a year.
After the first 24 cars are put into service, Kawaski will send one or two cars each month from Nebraska, where the cars are constructed, Nursick said. He added the company will continue to deliver cars into 2014, eventually sending as many as 10 each month.
Metro-North is currently running on a 10 percent reduced schedule because 140 of its cars are in the shop due to weather-related issues caused by January’s snowstorms, Nursick said. He added that Metro-North has been working 24-hour shifts for weeks now trying to keep up with the backlog of affected cars.
The M8s, in addition to being more reliable in winter weather, will have space for bicycle storage, Nursick said.
“It’s hard to even compare the new M8 with an old M2,” he added. “It would be like comparing a Pinto to a Cadillac.”
Because Connecticut covers about two-thirds of the cost of the cars and Metro-North pays the rest, the bond commission must first approve the purchase before Metro-North can move ahead with its plans, Nursick said.
In 2010, the New Haven Line had 37.2 million riders, making it the busiest commuter rail line in the country.