Facing passenger fury over delays caused by broken-down trains, Metrorail in late May posted a replacement schedule showing significant light at the end of the tunnel: the first of a generation of new rail cars arriving by the fall and a full fleet replacement by the end of 2019.
One four-car train has arrived so far, but the system has fallen months behind schedule and the manufacturer now expects to deliver the final Metrorail cars in early 2020. Flash floods swamped a train factory in West Plains, Missouri, last spring, prompting manufacturer Hitachi to delay its projected delivery date of the last of 136 new Metrorail cars, according to documents released this week.
The flood occurred in April and Metrorail released its most recent public replacement schedule in May. That’s roughly the same time that Hitachi, the maker of the trains, said it would need more time to deliver a new $380 million fleet of Metrorail cars.
“They had three feet of water in the factory,” said Alice Bravo, the county’s transportation director. “We know things in life happen.”
Bravo said the transit agency plans to issue a new delivery schedule to the public soon. She said the county does not consider Hitachi to be missing a deadline because a natural disaster allowed Hitachi to revise the timeline under an Act of God clause in its agreement with Miami-Dade. “By contract, they’re not behind schedule,” she said.
With Miami-Dade still using its original Metrorail cars from 1984, years of deferred maintenance and avoiding replacement costs has left the 25-mile system in distress. The county last year imposed shorter hours and longer wait times as the number of working trains dwindled. Transit administrators say they won’t be able to shrink wait times until the summer, when enough new trains are expected to be online to handle a tighter schedule.
The cut hours have already been restored, and a transit spokeswoman said the longer delivery times for the new trains won’t affect the planned reduction in wait times, which was based on Hitachi’s internal revisions to the original goals. With Miami-Dade promoting the new trains as a historic fix to Metrorail’s worsening problems, the longer delivery schedule means a longer wait for broad relief, too.
“You always want to under-promise and over-deliver,” said Daniella Levine Cava, a Miami-Dade commissioner who pressed for more Metrorail funding in 2018 to reduce wait times. She said she’ll be introducing legislation to require the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez to make regular updates on when the new trains will be arriving. “We need to know exactly what’s going on with the delay, and what can be done to accelerate” delivery.
So far, the county is only slightly behind the original schedule. Metrorail was supposed to have eight new cars in service by Feb. 1 — enough for two, four-car trains. While the first four-car train arrived slightly ahead of schedule in late November, on Tuesday the county was only able to deploy a two-car train since another two-car pair wasn’t yet finished testing at the Metrorail yard near Miami Springs.
The gap widens after that. The original schedule called for 20 new cars in service by March. But Hitachi’s most recent delivery forecast, dated Dec. 21, predicts only 10 cars will be available by then — half of what was advertised. The revisions also stretch into another year. While the two final cars — Numbers 135 and 136 — were slated to arrive in November 2019, the Hitachi schedule shows the pair arriving in April 2020 instead.
Representatives for Hitachi, a Japan-based company which assembles the new trains in a Medley plant, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Transit administrators said the final schedule isn’t set in stone, and that they’re hoping Hitachi can accelerate delivery times on its anticipated schedule (called a “best-effort plan”).
Miami-Dade “has asked Hitachi to revisit and accelerate some of the interim milestones,” transit spokeswoman Ileen Delgado said in a statement. “They are currently analyzing their production pipeline and we should have a final best-effort plan within the next few days.”
Al Maloof, a lobbyist with Genovese Joblove & Battista who worked on the original Metrorail train procurement for a company later bought by Hitachi, said modest delivery delays should be expected in a project as complicated as replacing an entire train network. He also said Miami-Dade was probably asking for trouble in offering such a precise schedule to the public.
“There are so many variables,” he said. “It’s very difficult to project delivery to the month.”