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December 22, 2006

Metro-North Considers Prohibition

Don’t look now, but Metro-North’s parent agency, the MTA, is about to play Grinch. They’re considering a plan to ban booze on all their trains. Here’s the story.

Last summer a young lady riding the Long Island Railroad was killed when she slipped into a gap between the platform and her train. She was, allegedly, drunk. Rather than fix the problem (the gap), the railroad is blaming the passenger. This just doesn’t make sense.

We don’t know if the young lady bought her booze on the train, at Penn Station or at a corner deli in Manhattan. We don’t know if her inebriation caused her to fall, as there have been plenty of other such accidents involving stone cold sober commuters.

I’m no lawyer, but I don’t see how the railroad can be held responsible for the passenger’s behavior, though it should certainly be liable for the unsafe conditions at the station.

The answer is not prohibition. Banning the sales of booze on railroad property won’t sober up determined commuters who wants to enjoy a beer on their way home. It will just make them more creative, hiding their brew in a brown bag. Is this really how the railroad wants to treat its customers, as criminals? What’s next… breathalyzers?

Every time the Commuter Council floats the idea of cellphone-free “Quiet Cars”, the Metro-North brass says “no way”, claiming it doesn’t want to turn conductors into cops. And now they’re suggesting conductors police the consumption of beverages on the train?

Already we’re getting reports that GCT cart sales and bar-car tenders are limiting customers to the purchase of two drinks… an “old rule”, we are told, but one that veteran commuters tell me they’ve never heard of.

In full disclosure let me acknowledge that I don‘t drink. I gave it up 20+ years ago. I am no fan of the bar cars as I think they’re wasting space for convivial stand-up drinking when what we really need is more seats for the standees. (Metro-North only has ten bar-cars in its fleet of 343, so what’s the big deal?)

But while I’m no bar-fly, I’ll argue strongly that commuters should have the right to drink if they do so responsibly. Last I checked there hasn’t been a problem with rowdy drunks enroute. Nor has there been a spate of auto accidents when Dashing Dan’s stagger off the train and into their cars.

During the season of Christmas parties it’s up to all of us to behave… and keep an eye out for our fellow travelers. Would Metro-North rather send revelers back to their auto’s for their drive home from the city?

Connecticut’s Department of Transportation, which hires Metro-North to run our trains, has already announced that any attempts at prohibition by MTA won’t hold sway in the Nutmeg State, so drink up boys. Here’s a toast to the railroad that’s living in the past.

Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920’s and it won’t work today.

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident, transit activist and Metro-North commuter for 15 years. You can reach him at or

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