By Martin B. Cassidy

Staff Writer

NEW YORK CITY — Barring any more production mistakes by the Kawasaki Rail Car Co., Metro-North Railroad will manage to get a maximum of 60 of the state’s new M-8 railcars in service by winter, officials told Connecticut’s state rail watchdog group Tuesday.

In anticipation of having fewer new cars in service than expected, Metro-North President Howard Permut said the railroad is crafting a contingency plan of alternative service plans and schedules if the fleet of worn-out M-2, M-4 and M-6 cars are knocked out of commission by another harsh winter.

The M-8s will be about a quarter of the fleet and most of the fleet will be the same cars that had problems this winter,” he said. “We’re thinking about what we will be doing next winter.”

At the regular monthly meeting of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, Permut discussed Kawasaki’s recent work shutdown on the new railcars at a Nebraska plant due to a production error.

Tim McCarthy, Metro-North’s senior director of capital programs, said Kawasaki has added vendors to help fabricate metal welds on the u-shaped brackets that secure equipment to train undersides. During a review of the production line, it was discovered the brackets were undersized.

The first new railcar from the Nebraska plant should be complete in June.

The substandard brackets already installed on 20 M-8 cars in service have been tested for safety, and are to be retrofitted gradually in the next year, McCarthy said.

“All the brackets need to be reworked,” he said.

Permut said the state Department of Transportation and Metro-North Railroad were still trying to decide whether to begin a comprehensive overhaul of Connecticut’s existing electric railcars, more than 200 of which are 40 years or older.

A similar overhaul of 147 of the state’s M-2 cars begun in 2004 has in most cases doubled the distance the cars could travel between significant maintenance problems.

“Doing and M-4 and M-6 critical systems replacement program would take until 2014 or 2015,” Permut said. This is well after the entire M-8 fleet is to be delivered by late 2013.

Jeffrey Maron, a Stamford commuter and council member, asked if Permut could predict how many of the state’s older cars would remain in the system, and for how long, as the M-8s are introduced.

“How many M-8s need to be in service before you begin eliminating the older cars,” Maron said.

Permut said Metro-North’s standing contract to scrap the old cars gives the Metropolitan Transportation Authority the discretion to decide when and at what rate old cars will be eliminated.

“We don’t know how many of the old cars will remain when the M-8s are fully in service,” Permut said.

McCarthy said a breakdown of an M-8 car earlier this month was caused by an engineer using the wrong system to disengage the brake system, not any design flaw.

The mishap resulted in passengers on the New Haven-bound train to wait nearly an hour and one-half at the South Norwalk station for a substitute run to complete their journey.

“We’re looking at the training of the crews and also what the engineers can see on the display to try to solve the problem,” McCarthy said.

Drew Todd, a council member from Norwalk, said he was concerned about more production hurdles on the new M-8 cars that could reduce the number of new cars in service during the winter.

Nearly 80 inches of snow in the Stamford-Bridgeport area last winter resulted in more than half the New Haven line’s fleet being out of commission, with Metro-North maintenance yards working around the clock to repair the backlog of cars.

“I’m worried it is going to be another tough winter,” Todd said. “Any additional problems are going to reduce the number to something lower.”