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November 13, 2007

"The Commute From Hell"

If misery loves company, riders on Metro-North often delight in tales of their commuting woes. Here are a couple of recent incidents that are real doozies.

On September 27th, the 4:50 pm Shore Line East “Silver Streak” from Stamford to New Haven made it just past Norwalk before the engine gave out. After 15 minutes, the conductor told passengers they were “working on” the diesel and that if it couldn’t be fixed, a replacement would be sent. An hour after the break-down, word came “a new engine is on its way”. After another hour (the delay now totaling two hours and fifteen minutes), the engine arrived from New Haven and the train lumbered as far as Bridgeport before further inexplicable delays.

In the meantime, passengers were in limbo with no communications. Not seeing any sign of a conductor, passengers roamed the three-car set seeking answers. One rider even commandeered the PA system asking “Does anybody know what’s going on?” Turns out the one lone conductor on the three-car train had taken cover in his booth!

Metro-North later apologized for the lack of communications and the conductor was chewed out for hiding rather than helping.

Then, just last week, a Danbury-bound train was similarly stalled-out, this time brought to a halt by slippery leaves. Branch riders had been warned that day they may have to take busses part of the way home due to the annual ritual of decomposing wet leaves and the steep grade combining to make even a multi-ton locomotive lose the friction war with Mother Nature.

So, on Friday October 26th, the 5:16 out of Stamford rolled out on time but never made it past Branchville. Try as it did to make it up the hill, several times, the train eventually gave up, dumping all of its weary riders in the tiny hamlet where a bus transfer was promised. An hour and 45 minutes later, one bus arrived. It was immediately filled, leaving a hundred passengers on the platform. A second bus didn’t show up for more than a half-hour. Mind you, all this was happening in the rain.

As one commuter recounted, “Not once (during the entire time) did the conductor make one announcement as to what was going on.” Once again, passengers were calling Metro-North’s help line to find out was happening on their train while being ignored by the onboard staff. When passengers finally tracked down the conductor he was, you guessed it… hiding in his booth. He claimed there was a PA problem, though he never walked through the three car train to explain what was going on.

If this is what happens when a train is brought to its knees by wet leaves, imagine what would happen in a real emergency? How would passengers know how to evacuate a train or deal with the injured when the lone conductor in the crew is too afraid to face the paying public?

I’ve written at length about conductors who neglect to collect tickets from all riders, but incidents like these lose the railroad more than money. They cost Metro-North credibility, goodwill and any confidence commuters might still have that things will ever get better on their commute from hell.

We can, perhaps, understand it when something mechanical breaks down. But the breakdown in communications is inexcusable. Maybe the conductors are tired of having to apologize for delays and such. That’s too bad. As the face of the railroad it is always their job to explain what’s happening and keep riders informed.

That incidents like these happen more and more often, tells me that Metro-North has some serious training problems… no pun intended.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Now with the confluence of $4.00 plus a gallon for gas and summer vacation travel we commuters are having a REAL good time on Metro-North - NOT!
Once again the conductors are not doint thier jobs and enforcing the two most simple rules of the train - (1) make all seasts available for passengers and (2) stowe all luggage and belongings in the luggage racks or beneath the seats.

Fridays are especially heinous with vacation travelers boarding at rush hour with bags and bags of luggage. What are these people thinking? They know enough not to travel by car durring rush hour but think that commuter reality is somehow magically different on trains?

In the sticky hot weather and with no air conditioning in some cars, tempers are fraying and I think it is just a matter of time before violence erupts - all because the conductors are too lazy or too scared to tell people to act right. I know it's like babysitting. I know it can't be fun to do - but by God someone has got to do it and it is not in Metro-North RR's best interest for the passengers to take things into their own hands!

What can be done about conductors - they should be doing more than ticket collection!