Commuter trains are slower but safer
Published 11:54 am, Monday, September 22, 2014
In many ways, the weekday morning commute from suburban train platforms into Grand Central Terminal hasn't changed much in 100 years.
Sections of track and overhead wire -- and at least one moveable metal bridge -- placed in service by 1914 or earlier are still in use.
Riders likely grumbled about the temperature and air quality in the train cars they stepped onto, and about how long the ride was going to take. They complained there were too many stops, just as they do now.
Although not every train stopped at every station, the September 1914 timetable listed Woodmont and Devon in Milford, Glenbrook and Sound Beach in Stamford, as well as West Haven, which only got its stop back last year. Glenbrook is now a stop on the New Canaan Branch line, and the other three have been dropped altogether.
With no highways and few well-surfaced roads or cars to use them, the trains were the only game in town 100 years ago.
Now, with highways choked with traffic, transportation planners are urging people back onto trains by opening more stations, including a second one proposed for Bridgeport.
Adding stops will lengthen a trip that many riders and commuter advocates say takes longer now than in 1914. Riders a century ago must have been thrilled as they watched the blur of scenery through the windows. The right of way had been fully electrified that June, and older steam engines with a top speed of about 65 mph were mothballed.
Since then, though, and especially since the mid-1980s, the average trip on Metro-North has gotten longer, with the introduction of cab signaling equipment and speed restrictions over aging tracks and bridges.
"And it will get longer, so goes the gossip," said John Fowler, who rides the train weekdays from Milford. "Starting in November, the first train of the day is now allegedly going to make every stop until Stamford, which should add another 10 minutes to the morning commute."
The fastest time on a Metro-North train for the 72 miles between Grand Central Terminal and New Haven is one hour and 45 minutes, measured by the tri-state Regional Planning Agency.
The fastest train from New Haven in 1914 was the Bankers Express, which left at 8 a.m., running non-stop and arriving at Grand Central at 9:44 a.m., one minute faster.
"Metro-North does not run any nonstops, but our train No. 1539 departs New Haven at 7:57 a.m. and arrives Grand Central at 9:45, only 4 minutes longer than the Bankers while making seven station stops," railroad spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, which operated the New Haven Line in the 1950s, ran express trains from Stamford to Grand Central in 47 minutes. That time had been cut by a minute in 2000, but it now takes 63 minutes to cover the same distance, commuter advocate James Cameron wrote in his "Talking Transportation" blog, because of speed restrictions.
New Haven Line trains in 1962 were allowed to go as fast as 70 mph, another rail source said. While there are some stretches today where a top speed of 80 mph is permitted, many more curves, bridges and switches are speed-restricted.
There were only seven segments on the line with speed restrictions in 1962, compared to 26 such locations today.
The Federal Rail Administration placed even more speed and operating restrictions on Metro-North after a series of accidents last year, including a derailment in December that killed four people and injured 63.
"No single line has experienced such a run of sad luck," said Josh Crandall of the Clever Commute website. "But nobody wants to be on the wrong end of a discussion on safety."