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February 19, 2011

CDOT Thinks Commuters Are Stupid

Jim Cameron - Chairman
The CT Rail Commuter Council’s “Winter Crisis – Commuter Summit” last week was a big success.  Dozens of commuters turned out to share their horror stories about trying to ride Metro-North this winter… no heat, no information, no seats and in many cases, no trains!
Metro-North and the CT Dept of Transportation made the usual excuses and apologies, which placated few… “we’re doing the best we can”… ‘it’s not our fault the trains are so old”… and the classic, “be patient, the new M8 cars are coming.” 
All of these are true.  But it was in trying to explain the many delays in the delivery and testing of the new M8 cars that things got heated.
As any reader of this column knows, we’ve been waiting since 2005 for new cars to replace our decrepit fleet.  Designed and built by Kawasaki, the new M8 cars look great.  But they’re 15 months late into service with no real explanation as to why... or when they’ll be ready for passengers.  It was time for answers.
The CT Rail Commuter Council, a creation of the legislature, has neither a budget nor much power.  But the one thing state statutes say is that we may request “and shall receive” any assistance we want from the CDOT in understanding what’s going wrong with Metro-North operations.
So, to get to the bottom of the M8 delays, we requested that CDOT bring to our meeting someone from Kawasaki and from LTK (the consultant that’s been paid $27 million to oversee the M8 testing program).  To our dismay, they refused.  No explanation, just a “no”.
We turned to Governor Malloy’s office for help, but they didn’t even return our phone calls.  So much for the first test of the Governor’s promise of open, transparent government.
Why the cover-up?  What do CDOT and the Governor know about the M8 delays that they wanted to keep the experts away from our questioning?  What are they hiding?
At our meeting on February 16th we submitted a list of 32 specific questions about the M8 program and got few replies.  But among the facts we did learn:
-        The testing program has been underway for a year.
-        The cars are showing not just “software problems” but hardware issues as well.
-        Kawasaki doesn’t get paid until the cars prove they can work.
-        The mandatory 4000-mile test run of the prototype cars has been started and restarted several times as new problems were identified.
-        Metro-North still thinks they can fix the M8 problems and get as many as 80 into service by the end of 2011, two years behind schedule.
When a commuter asked the Interim-Commissioner of the CDOT why he wasn’t speaking specifically about the identified engineering problems with the M8 he was told that “people wouldn’t understand” them.  In other words, because we’re not civil or electrical engineers (though many commuters are!), the CDOT thinks it better to just explain away this $866 million railcar as having “software problems”.
I told the Commissioner that I found his attitude insulting and condescending.  Commuters on Metro-North are not stupid and we don’t need to have things “dumbed down” to be understood.

The CT Rail Commuter Council has done what it can to find the truth about the M8 delays.  We’ve sent our questions along to the Transportation Committee of the state legislature. 
Maybe they can get some straight answers.


2 comments:

chris said...

Condescension seems to be a common theme when it comes to Metro-North and ConnDOT not providing transparency into their operations.

I guess its just time for a FOIL request for full documentation of all M8 deployment problems, past and present, which have been incurred to date.

StationStops said...

Time for a FOIL request I guess.