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NEW MTA RAIL CARS TO BE IDLE FOR YEARS; TRAINS UNABLE TO ROLL DUE TO CONSTRUCTION DELAYS.

Byline: Patrick McGreevy Daily News Staff Writer

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will get 124 new rail cars at a cost of $296 million during the next three years - a decade before many are needed, officials admit.

Since the trains were ordered, shortfalls in revenue and cost overruns have forced lengthy delays in rail construction plans.

The result of the mix-up is:

Dozens of train cars will be surplus to current needs and underused.

Many train cars are likely to become outmoded by technological advances over the next decade.

Money that could have been spent on other transit improvements that are needed now is tied up in the extra trains.

With the first new cars scheduled to arrive in two months, MTA officials are making arrangements to rotate some into service on already operating lines until the additional tracks are completed.

Some will arrive 10 years before completion of the rail lines for which they were purchased.

Critics say the train cars are an inexcusable waste of money for a system that is so financially strapped it recently delayed the start of the San Fernando Valley rail project by four years to 2007 - and left a cloud of doubt hanging over whether the Valley line will ever be built.

``We're never going to get a subway in the Valley as long as the MTA is this inefficient,'' said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association.

``This is just another illustration of how out of control the MTA is.''

Mayor Richard Riordan, who became MTA board chairman July 1, said the rail car kerfuffle is an example of the poor management and planning that have plagued the agency and made it impossible to fulfill its promises.

``This is outrageous,'' Riordan said. ``This should be a wakeup call for the MTA.''

Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian, who until last week was chairman of the MTA board, said the board acted in good faith when it ordered the trains and that Congress is to blame for slashing funding that would have kept the rail projects on schedule.

``I'm very disappointed,'' Zarian said. ``I'm hoping Congress will see what a waste of money this is, which is beyond our control, to have the trains sitting there.''

Delayed schedules

Many of the new trains scheduled for delivery in the coming months were purchased three or more years ago, when it looked like they would be able to be put into service on newly completed tracks upon delivery.

Funding problems forced the MTA board to adopt a new construction schedule this month that delays projects by up to four years.

As a result, most of the newly arriving trains cannot be used on the new rail lines as originally intended for a year or more.

``When we ordered them, the perception was that we were going to get funding and we were going to be on schedule,'' Zarian said. ``But since then there have been delays. So the trains are going to be delivered and we're not going to have any use for them.''

The worst time lag faces the MTA's $141 million order of 68 heavy-rail cars for the Mid-City, East-side, Hollywood and North Hollywood subway projects.

The trains were ordered in 1994 and 1996 when schedules for rail construction were shorter. The MTA is scheduled to take delivery of 44 heavy-rail cars by June 1998 and the additional 24 by June 1999.

About 22 of the 68 cars will be able to go on line a year after they are delivered, when the Red Line subway is extended to Hollywood in 1999.

The Red Line extension to North Hollywood, which requires 16 of the new cars, is expected to be open by June 2000.

Six of the trains are needed for the East-side line, which isn't scheduled to be operating until 2005, while 24 of the trains being delivered by 1999 were purchased for the opening of the Mid-City line, which has had its completion date moved back until 2008.

All of this means that many of the heavy-rail cars will be delivered at least six to 10 years before they will be needed, assuming the construction schedule is followed.

MTA spokeswoman Mary Ann Maskery said the new trains will be put to use on existing rail lines, which will reduce wear and tear on existing trains and possibly allow the MTA to increase the frequency of service.

``They won't be storing them,'' she said. ``They will be recycled into the fleet.''

But Zarian added, ``You still have too many trains.''

Light-rail woes

Similar plans are being made for light-rail cars that will start being delivered to the MTA in September.

The MTA will begin taking delivery on a $155 million order for 52 light-rail cars, of which 29 were purchased for the Blue Line extension to Pasadena. The trains will come in a few at a time through June 2000, but most will be delivered by 1999.

But the Pasadena line now isn't scheduled to begin operation until late 2001, and that date is believed to be optimistic.

Maskery said it takes about six months to test, dress and retrofit trains before they can be put into service, so many of the Pasadena line trains will be ready for use about a year before the rail line is finished.

The new light-rail cars are built for faster speeds and will be assigned to replace Green Line cars as part of an effort to increase the speed of the Green Line between Norwalk and Westchester.

That will free up Green Line cars, which, added to other new trains, will be put to use relieving and adding to the cars on the existing Blue Line between Long Beach and downtown, reducing wear and tear on existing trains, handling additional riders projected to use the line once more subway stations are open and possibly allowing the MTA to reduce the time between trains.

Embarrassed again

The whole foul-up is yet another embarrassment to an agency being threatened with major overhauls because of past mismanagement.

``It's not surprising,'' Close said. ``Most people realize the MTA is mismanaged, inefficient and wastes a lot of money. This is another example of why there needs to be a reorganization of the MTA.''

Zarian said he feels frustrated as well.

However, he said the MTA might have faced a different criticism if it had not ordered the rail cars far enough ahead of time that they would be available if the old schedules held up.

Maskery defended the purchase of the heavy-rail trains so far before the rail lines were built by noting that the MTA was offered a substantial discount for buying the Red Line trains in bulk rather than purchasing them as needed.

The discount averaged $390,000 each for heavy-rail cars that cost between $1.8 million and $2.03 million.

``The reason they were purchased when they were was to exercise an option for a lower rate,'' she said.

Critics said that having rail cars on hand 10 years before the rail system is in place means the trains will likely be outdated when they are put into the service for which they were intended.

Trains built 10 years from now might cost less and be more efficient, Close said. ``The technology may be cheaper and better later.''

He also said taking delivery will lock in an older technology for the Valley when it eventually gets an east-west line hooked up to the Red Line.

Maskery said the rail cars have an average life of about 30 years and the technology for building the shells does not change much over time, while newer electronics can be installed later.

She noted that the Bay Area Rapid Transit system is putting new electronics systems in 24-year-old cars.

Changes in rail technology occur ``not very quickly, because it's a very conservative industry that comes along slowly,'' Maskery said.

Still, Riordan is intent on making sure that future purchases are better planned and scheduled to coincide with the need for more equipment.

``As chairman, I will make sure that common sense prevails,'' he said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 5, 1997
Words:1353
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