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December 05, 2011

Winter on Metro-North

It may not officially start until December 21st, but winter is already on the minds of Metro-North and its 125,000 daily commuters.  We all remember what happened last year with bad storms, train breakdowns and a month of reduced service (fewer trains and fewer cars).
Well, though I can’t forecast the weather I can safely predict another tough winter for the railroad and its passengers.
I honestly believe that Metro-North wants to run an all-weather railroad and does all it can to prep our aging fleet of 40-year-old cars.  But the old cars’ poor design probably means that more break-downs are inevitable.
We don’t have enough diesel train sets to come anywhere close to being able to offer full service if the old MU (electric) cars freeze up again.  And we’ve only received 56 of the 405 new M8 cars ordered years ago, so those few train sets will be of little help if our 300+ older cars can’t run.
And the M8’s we do have on hand have yet to be run in nasty winter weather, so fingers-crossed when they’re sent out in their first blizzard.
So what’s Metro-North’s plan for the months ahead?  In a nutshell, lower your expectations and hopefully exceed their few promises.
Rather than try to run in bad weather, Metro-North is warning riders not to expect full service when the snows come.  I think this move is wise, if unfortunate, given the realities of our ancient fleet.
It really makes no sense to run the old MU cars if we all know they may freeze up mid-run, stranding passengers in dangerous conditions.  Though the railroad has done all it can engineering-wise to fix them, the cars were poorly designed and still ingest snow into their electronics bays where it melts, short-circuits the train’s electronics, then refreezes into a giant block of ice.
So expect reduced or potentially cancelled train service if the weather is bad.  Make your plans now to stay with a friend or relative if you’re trapped in the city, or work from home if the morning trains don’t run.
When the forecast looks bad, check for updates on the MTA website, Clever Commute and through local media.  (The CT Rail Commuter Council tweets the latest @CTRailCommuters on Twitter.)
There will probably be better rail service than the railroad is warning, but it will be nowhere close to the full service we enjoy in good weather.  What trains that do run will be packed and will probably be late.
By this time next year we should have a hundred additional shiny new M8 cars, which have been designed to withstand the worst Mother Nature can dish out.  If they live up to expectations, this winter may be the last where we have to worry about winter train service.

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