Get tougher on MTA contractors

The newest fleet of LIRR trains, the M9s, are parked at the Kawasaki Rail facility in Yonkers on May 7.
The newest fleet of LIRR trains, the M9s, are parked at the Kawasaki Rail facility in Yonkers on May 7. Photo Credit: NBC / Trae Patton

Delay after delay. Excuse after excuse. Promise after promise.

Enough is enough.

In the latest example of contractor problems plaguing the MTA, a long-awaited fleet of new train cars is delayed again as the Long Island Rail Road continues to test them.

No one wants cars rushed into service if they aren’t ready. But the problems are unacceptable, and the LIRR — the nation’s largest commuter railroad — knows it. The cars are more than a year and a half behind schedule, and now more than $25 million over budget.

It’s important to note that much of the train car delay predated current LIRR President Phillip Eng’s tenure. But there’s more MTA management can do to execute proper oversight, to hold contractors accountable, and to keep projects, large and small, on time and on budget.

The train car issues come as MTA executives and board members continue to pound other contractors for delays and problems associated with the installation of safety technology called positive train control. The partnership of Siemens and Bombardier Transportation has a disastrous record.

Only recently did MTA executives and board members take a louder, more active role in pressing the vendors to do better. On Wednesday, representatives from both companies promised to meet the federally mandated December 2020 deadline.

Perhaps the MTA should give the LIRR’s train car maker the same treatment.

But even that’s not enough. The question now is whether the MTA can follow through, provide oversight and enforce penalties. The authority’s track record on this is poor at best. And it doesn’t bode well that Lee Sander, a former MTA chief executive who didn’t always control costs well, is now a key executive at Bombardier. It’s one example of why the MTA also needs to examine its internal connections to and relationships with vendors.

The MTA says its on-time performance on the subways and commuter rails is starting to improve. Yet here we are, talking about other types of costly delays.

Clearly, it’s time to switch tracks.

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