Commuters demand action from Metro-North
At a forum hosted by the state's official rail advocacy group, about a dozen commuters and legislators complained about late trains and long trips, and the economic drag that poor quality rail service will wreak on Connecticut's economic future.
"The added time to my commute in the recent months has dragged it out far beyond what it has been at any time during the past 20 years," Patrick Swearinger, of New Canaan, said. "When are train schedules going to go back to what they were? Can anyone respond to that?"
Like other towns and cities with Metro-North stations, Stamford's ability to court economic investment relies on Metro-North Railroad's ability to restore old service and enhance both speed and frequency, Stamford Mayor David Martin told the panel of rail officials in attendance.
John Kesich, senior vice president of operations for Metro-North, appeared alongside state Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker, Sue Doering, Metro-North's senior director of service and stations, and Anne Kirsch, Metro-North's director of safety and security. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was also there.
"Fundamentally the unreliability and lack of capacity and frequency on Metro-North is jeopardizing the economic prosperity of Stamford," Martin said. "You have got to fix this. You have to have more capacity and you need a plan for the next 10 or 20 years. Please do it, it just might be our economic future at stake."
El Shaffei Dada, an Old Greenwich commuter who travels from Stamford, said he was puzzled that the accidents in the past year, including three derailments, have not resulted in more conspicuous change in railroad leadership.
"Whose responsible, Metro-North, or the DOT? Is it our legislators? Who do we go to?," Dada said. "Whose job is on the line when things aren't done?"
Kesich offered some detailed explanations, blaming slower speeds on a federal order in late 2013 which required the railroad to create speed transition zones as trains approach curves and bridges.
Kesich said he couldn't definitively tell riders when trains would resume the running speeds they had before last May, when a derailment of one train and collision with another in Bridgeport injured 76 people.
"Our objective is to take a better look at (Metro-North's) operation from a system perspective," Kesich said.
In the audience, Harry Artinian, a Darien commuter, muttered an angry, "come on," when he heard Kesich blame the poor service in part on the retirement of experienced Metro-North rail workers.
"How many years ago should they have expected people to retire? Isn't that part of their job?" Artinian said. "What this is, is a catastrophic failure of management by the government, Metro-North, and the Legislature."
Aaron Armstrong, a Stamford commuter, said that he and his wife are now balking at their long-held goal of buying a house in Westport or Fairfield because of Metro-North's string of misfortune.
"It's going to be a longer commute and possibly a two-hour commute each way," Armstrong said. "The quality of life is something to think about, and the MTA is going to be a big part of it."