800 Trains a Week and Counting: Metro-North’s M8 electric

Written by: Gary Dolzall

Brand new Metro-North M8 electrics built by Kawasaki line up ready for service at MNCR’s Stamford, Connecticut maintenance facility. The cutting-edge M8 emu is coming soon to TS2014’s New York to New Haven route.

The Kawasaki-built Metro-North M8 emu is the latest in a long line of electrics to serve the New Haven route, and as Gary Dolzall reports, it is fast becoming the primary workhorse on the line.

Over the long history of the New York to New Haven route, electric multiple unit (emu) trains have played a critical role in ushering millions of commuters to and from New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The New York, New Haven & Hartford (New Haven, for short) operated emu’s as early as 1908 in the form of Osgood Bradley and General Electric-built cars of wooden construction and open-platform design. Over the following five decades, the New Haven would call upon numerous designs and hundreds of emu’s, the last of which were NYNH&H’s 4400-series Pullman-Standard-built emu’s nicknamed “Washboards” for their fluted stainless steel sides.

Amid the maze of complex trackage of New York’s fabled Grand Central Station (above), an M8 emu set makes its departure, then, approximately 8 minutes later (below), rolls out of the Park Avenue Tunnel. All screenshots by the author.

When, following the merger of New Haven into Penn Central and that giant’s subsequent fall in bankruptcy, commuter services were transferred into the hands of state-funded agencies (today’s New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Connecticut Department of Transportation, and operating entity Metro-North Commuter Railroad), the tradition of emu’s on the New Haven line continued, in the form of “M-series” electrics first constructed in 1972 by Budd and General Electric. Today on the New Haven line, the latest in MNCR’s M-series – the M8 model built by Kawasaki Rail Car – is becoming the new standard bearer of the route.

The M8 is the latest in a long line of emu’s to serve the New York – New Haven route. A setting far different than the concrete canyons of New York City is Metro-North’s 8-mile New Canaan branch, which has much the feel of an old-style North American Interurban line. A four-unit set of M8s is ready (above) to depart New Canaan station and then makes its way south (below) toward a connection with the MNCR mainline at Stamford.

Metro-North’s fleet of M-series emu’s can be roughly divided into two groups. Those with even model numbers (e.g., M2, M4, M6, and M8) are equipped to operate both from third-rail DC and overhead catenary AC power sources, as is required to make a run from Grand Central Terminal to New Haven (the change-over between third-rail and catenary occurs at Pelham, New York). These M-series cars all wear a livery that features the burnt-orange once worn by New Haven Railroad equipment. MNCR’s “odd-numbered” emu series (M7, for example), which operate on the Hudson and Harlem lines out of GCT, only require third-rail capabilities and wear a blue and silver livery. The Long Island Railroad, operating out of New York Penn Station, also utilizes M-series emu’s which call upon third-rail power.

Traditional first stop for Metro-North trains outbound from New York Grand Central Terminal is 125th Street Station in Harlem. On a snowy day, an M8 set makes the Harlem stop with New York’s skyline in the background.

In 2010, faced with a rapidly aging and increasingly unreliable fleet of emu’s (the newest M6 cars dated to 1993), the Connecticut Department and Transportation (ConnDOT) and Metro-North placed orders for what would be the next generation of electrics on the New Haven line – the M8. While very similar in general design to theM7 series constructed by Bombardier beginning in 2002 for both MNCR and LIRR, the new M8 would be fundamentally different as well. First, of course, unlike the DC-only M7s, the new model would be equipped for both DC and AC operations as required on the New Haven line. The M8’s interior design and seating would be enhanced by lessons learned from the M7, and on the exterior, the M8 would present a more dynamic appearance. Wearing burnt orange, black, and silver in homage to the New Haven Railroad, the new M8 was the styling work of Cesar Vergara, an industrial designer perhaps best known as the stylist of the General Electric “Genesis” passenger diesel, and his VergaraStudio. And most notably, the new M8s would be constructed by Kawasaki Rail Car.

Slightly north of 125th Street Station, a set of Metro-North M8s crosses the Harlem River and make their way into the Bronx on TS2014’s New York – New Haven line. The burnt orange, black, and silver livery of the M8s honor the New Haven Railroad.

MNCR/ConnDOT initially ordered 300 M8 units with an option for 80 more, which was soon authorized, and since an addition order of 25 units has been placed, bringing the M8s eventual fleet size to over 400. The first M8s entered service on MNCR in May 2011 (the initial 38 units were constructed in Kobe, Japan, with the remainder built by Kawasaki in Lincoln, Nebraska). Although production delays surfaced, and deliveries through late 2011 and early 2012 were somewhat slow, as of March 2014, 306 of the M8s had been accepted for service by MNCR.

When you take the throttle of TS2014’s new Metro-North M8, you’ll be replying upon an advanced in-cab signal system and controls that will allow you to make the required en route change from AC overhead catenary to DC third-rail power supply.

Already, the M8 has become the primary workhorse of the New York-New Haven line, covered 55 percent of MNCR’s weekday New Haven line services and operating more than 800 weekly schedules. As the full fleet of M8s arrive, these new electrics will, of course, largely replace MNCR’s older, time-worn M-series emus and will be the standard conveyance for commuters between New York, Stamford, and New Haven for years and decades to come. As well as the New York-New Haven main line, the M8s can also be found operating on MNCR’s fascinating and almost interurban-like Stamford-New Canaan branch, and it is likely the M8s will operate over additional territory in the future. When the full fleet is in place, M8s are expected to begin covering many of ConnDOT’s Shore Line East’s trains, which operate north of New Haven on the Northeast Corridor to Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

Metro-North’s M8s operate from both DC (third rail) and AC (overhead wire) power on the New Haven line. The change-over occurs between Mt. Vernon East and Pelham, New York. A northbound set of M8s (above) is in the change-over section where both third-rail and catenary are in place. Moments later (below), the engineer has raised the pantograph and the train passes beyond the end of third rail.

Best of all, the fascinating M8 will soon be coming to TS2014, ready for service on the New York – New Haven route. Taking the controls of these cutting-edge electrics amid the bustle of Grand Central Terminal and the ever-busy MNCR route, making the change from DC to AC power en route, and utilizing their advance in-cab signaling system will make for challenging and enjoyable hours as a Metro-North engineer!

– Gary Dolzall

In making its way out of New York City and through the Bronx, MNCR’s ever-busy four-track mainline is often situated well below street level in stone-lined deep cuts.

 

Metro-North’s M8s operate between New York Grand Central Terminal and New Haven, Connecticut. At New Haven Union Station on TS2014’s remarkable New York – New Haven route, sets of stylish M8 emu’s await their next run south to the Big Apple.

Gary Dolzall

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