Long Island Rail Road President Phil Eng appeared live this morning on LI News Radio 103.9 FM with Jay Oliver to discuss the LIRR’s study of battery-powered railcars that could bring one-seat rides to diesel branches and improve service reliability.
A transcript of the interview appears below.
Jay Oliver: We’ll keep it here because I hate to keep my good friend on the tracks, you know him well, Phillip Eng, who is the president of Long Island Rail Road. Huge announcement, Mr. President I thought you were going to announce it on my show today, I guess it leaked out, all over the wires. But that's okay, I got you, I got the real deal right now, great to have you as always.
Phil Eng: Jay, thank you for having me. It’s a great opportunity to speak with your listeners and yourself.
Oliver: Always good stuff. I like what I'm hearing with this battery-powered stuff, explain my friend.
Eng: So Jay, you know, over the last few years, talking with communities along these diesel territory branches, they've all asked for improved service, they've all asked for electrification. And I know just from the billions of dollars that obviously transcends multiple capital programs, and it competes against state of good repair, and making it even more extremely difficult, but even the construction itself is invasive. We wanted to find a way to try and solve it. This battery technology has improved to such a level that we think there's a strong opportunity that we can modify the M7 and partnering with Alstom, we're very optimistic that they know that our M7 cars inside and out, that it’s a great opportunity to build this in and pilot this on the Oyster Bay Branch as a start. And anything we do to improve Oyster Bay improves the rest of the branches because then we have an opportunity to look at how we can reassign cars and fleets and better serve all of our riders.
Oliver: That is a good thing. And there's a cost, a price tag to this, $860,000, Phil, correct? And it's going to be what, about an eight-month study. Is that the overall number here?
Eng: That is the number. We structured this in a way that if any point in this analysis and study that we find it infeasible, they're, you know, we're not on the hook for it all. Having said that, I'm optimistic that this will be successful. I'm optimistic that we will move forward into the second phase and look to build out a prototype. But there's still a lot of questions to be answered, but that's why these are types of things that we want to do here. We want to show our riders that we are thinking of their needs, we've been listening to their needs, and we're going to, you know, leave no stone unturned as we look to improve service to all and help Long Island rebound against this pandemic. But even beyond that, keep it the robust and exciting place it is to live.
Oliver: What about the infamous third rail, Phil Eng? Are we looking at the possibility here, the LIRR, could be looking at this to kind of recharge when trains are operating on electrified tracks. What about that aspect?
Eng: The third rail from the perspective, Jay, do you mean do we need to build out a third rail still for---?
Oliver: Third rail to recharge. What about that whole thing?
Eng: I’m sorry?
Oliver: What about that aspect as far as the third rail? Where the railroad could be looking at the possibility using that to recharge the batteries when the trains are operating on electrified tracks, what about that aspect there? Possibility there?
Eng: Part the analysis will determine just how many charging stations we have. So we will assume obviously, at the terminus. So for instance, at Oyster Bay, at the Oyster Bay station there will be a need for a charging station, whether it's at the station or in the yard. This way when the trains come out for the initial run on diesel territory they will be fully powered battery. As the longer distances go, for instance Oyster Bay is 13 miles, Port Jefferson is 22 miles and then you go further distances for Ronkonkoma to Greenpoint, and to Montauk. They would maybe require additional charging locations, part of the analysis will tell us just if we need additional locations along the way. And for instance, when a train pulls into a station intermediate, how long does it take and how much power can you recoup in a 60-second stop. Those are the things that will help us determine the footprint of this solution.
Oliver: I like it. You know, I was reading over the years, first steamed-powered train between Jamaica and Brooklyn. Anybody know what years? Right? 1836? Wow, that's a long history there. And it's going to be the first-of-its-kind in North America, this whole thing? Is that correct?
Eng: Yeah, that is true. We're very excited. We know that this battery technology has worked in light rail. It's being used in Europe in Asia. This will be the first in North America for commuter rail of this type, but we're very excited because as I stated earlier, the batteries have gotten better. They're longer lasting, they're smaller, they're lighter and it's the right time to take a look, particularly as the State of New York is looking to be greener. The communities that live along these territories are looking for, you know, the quality of life and this will be, not only greener, but it will be quieter. And we're looking to do our part to contribute to that and it’s exciting time for us. Absolutely.
Oliver: When would this get underway, Phil? So when will this happen?
Eng: So the analysis starts almost immediately. The Alstom team and our Long Island Rail Road managers and folks are gearing up to hit the ground running this eight-month analysis. When the time comes we will make a decision on the second phase, which would be to build out a prototype. But that prototype would then begin building probably towards the end of this year or the beginning of 2022.
Oliver: You look at all the nuances involved regarding trains, not only, you know, not only around the United States, but around the world right now. So the technology is obviously there. So we look forward to that. Now, give us a quick update, where are we at right now, ridership, LIRR, where we are at with the whole process?
Eng: Well, we're optimistic. We've seen ridership over the last few weeks rise from the low points that we had, and through the winter and after the post-holiday effect of the virus. Its riding at 28% right now and its remaining steady, which is a good thing. In the past, we've seen some fluctuations. Our weekend ridership still remains strong at 45, sometimes 50%. So those are the areas that we're going to continue to focus on. We know that the businesses will reopen, we know some folks will be coming back. Some will be back not as, not as frequent as they used to be five days a week, but we will take everyone back and we're ready to serve them. And we know the off-peak and as communities open up, as the beaches reopen in the summer, and as the sporting events and shows, those riders will come back and we'll be ready to serve them as well.
Oliver: All right, good stuff on the horizon. We will certainly await. Phillip Eng, he runs the show as far as the Long Island Rail Road, the president. Phil, thanks so much, we'll talk to you soon. How’s that?
Eng: Jay, you take care and I look forward to it.