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Aging, unreliable PATH trains will be replaced by '08

  PATH train commuters should be boarding shiny new rail cars by summer 2008.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Thursday agreed to pay Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. $499 million to replace its aging 340-car fleet that shuttles more than 150,000 people each day between New Jersey and Manhattan.

Similar to the New York City subway cars Kawasaki helped build, the new cars would include pre-recorded boarding announcements, improved video surveillance and materials that are easier to clean. PATH chief Michael DePallo said the new cars will offer a more comfortable ride all around.

More important, Port Authority officials say, the new cars will replace existing trains whose average age of 33 years is shown by mechanical-related delays. A growing number of cars are taken off-line for servicing at any given time. "What is far more important is that the train gets there on time .... and that there are minimal delays," Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia said, adding that one major reason Kawasaki won the bid were numbers showing the durability of other rail cars built by the company.

Authority officials declined to name the two other bidders. While cost was a factor, Kawasaki did not necessarily offer the lowest price, Coscia said. Instead, proposals were graded on cost, durability of other rail cars built, minority employee ratios and the amount of the work that would be done in the New York metro area. Kawasaki, which has a plant in Yonkers, has committed to spending at least $128 million of the contract in the region, Coscia said.

The new rail cars are part of an $809 million overhaul of the PATH system, which connects Newark, Jersey City, Hoboken and stops in between with Manhattan. Eight prototype cars would be delivered to the Port Authority by February 2008. Cars would start being replaced that August, with the entire fleet completed by 2011, authority officials said.

The Port Authority hasn't commissioned new cars since 1986, when Kawasaki built 94 cars for the agency. But most of the fleet was built before 1968, making it the oldest commuter fleet in the country, authority officials said.

Some PATH commuters interviewed Thursday said the new cars would be nice, particularly if it means a more usable fleet and fewer delays. As for the condition of the aging cars, the trains are too crowded to notice the grime caked up in the crevices of vinyl tile flooring, said Madison resident Sean Lucky, who was heading into Manhattan from Hoboken to visit friends.

Manhattan resident Joyce Campbell-Estrada, who commutes to her job at a Hoboken publishing company by PATH each morning, said she hopes Kawasaki and Port Authority officials will survey passengers before completing designs. Campbell-Estrada said she became frustrated with the narrow aisles of new Manhattan buses put into service by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "People weren't considered," Campbell-Estrada said. Copyright © 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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