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February 07, 2011

Metro-North's Winter Meltdown

Commuting on Metro-North has never been fun. But remember the good ol’ days when “Train time was your own time”?  This winter, train time is no time.  Metro-North’s New Haven division is in full meltdown.
Within the past week we have had two derailments, hundreds of late or cancelled trains and one frightening incident (caught on video) of an open door on a moving train.  Half of our fleet of cars is out of service, frozen solid.  Trains have broken down, without power for hours, while passengers were given no information.  And as I wrote last time, we are no closer to seeing the long-delayed new M8 cars in service.
Commuters aren’t angry, they’re livid.  I can’t even reprint some of the e-mails I get on a daily basis as Chairman of the CT Rail Commuter Council.  The language would make a sailor blush.  There have even been fist fights between some passengers.
Weekday trains have been run on a Sunday schedule.  Danbury, Waterbury and even New Canaan branch lines have seen more busing than trains.  On the mainline, trains arrived so crowded with standees that commuters couldn’t squeeze on even if they wanted to.  E-mail alerts from Metro-North would say one thing, the platform PA’s another and you’d see a third version of reality via CleverCommute.  Rumors abound but the facts are scarce.
Waterbury passengers connect to buses at Bridgeport
Finally, Metro-North wisely decided it had to cut service semi-permanently, or at least until the spring thaw, and introduced a new timetable with 10% fewer trains.  Branch line busing will be the rule from Bridgeport to Waterbury, with ‘their’ diesels diverted to the mainline. 
Some of this may help, at least until our oldest cars return to service.  But the trains will be fewer and even shorter of cars than before.  That probably means we’ll be S.R.O. in rush hour.
I am fearful of a revolt.  This isn’t Egypt, but the anger is as strong.  I’m hearing rumbling of commuter protests, like refusing to pay for their ride or staging sit-down strikes.  Some are demanding a 10% fare rebate to match the reduction in service.
To head off such protests, the Council is holding a special meeting:  “Winter Crisis – Commuter Summit” on Wednesday February 16th at 7 pm at Stamford Government Center, just a short walk from the station.  We have invited the President of Metro-North, the Commissioner of the CDOT, representatives from Kawasaki (builder of the new M8 cars) and LTK, the consultant being paid $27 million to oversee the M8 testing.  Local elected officials have also been invited, not to speak but to listen.
Most of all, we want commuters to join us… to share their stories of late trains, broken promises and outrage.  Commuters need to be heard… but they also need to hear from the railroad just why it’s done what it felt it had to.
Metro-North deserves credit for its valiant efforts to keep rail service running during blizzards and ice storms.  The railroad is not to blame for the weather or the obsolete, broken down equipment bought for its use by the state, cars that should have been replaced a decade ago.
Commuters need honest answers to their questions and concerns.  So, plan to join us February 16th in Stamford, 7 pm at Government Center.  Tell your friends and fellow commuters to join us.

1 comment:

jmcgovern said...

We have reached a time that an independent prosecutor should be selected by Governor Malloy and Governor Cuomo. Metro North President Permut was the VP pf Procurement when the Kawasaki contract was let. We can not trust his statements nor any statements coming from the numerous MTA and DOT spokespersons. We are talking about serious public funds and abuse of a governmental organization. It is time that the MTA answers to the taxpayers and commuters which can only be done by selecting an independent prosecutor.