WESTPORT -- During a July 22 train breakdown between the Westport and Green's Farms stations, one beleaguered conductor removed his uniform shirt as passengers grew more insistent in their requests to know details about why the train was stalled, Dot Crosby said Thursday night.

"I think he was afraid to be recognized," the Stratford resident said. "I know he was the conductor because I've ridden the train for 15 years."

Crosby was among a handful of New Haven Line commuters who offered opinions to Metro-North President Howard Permut and Connecticut Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker at a commuter forum held at Westport Town Hall about the train breakdowns and extended service delays.

On July 22, four trains broke down in a 20-mile stretch between South Norwalk and Bridgeport that afternoon, including Crosby's train, the 1:34 p.m. out of Grand Central Terminal, which broke down with more than 200 people aboard.

The train was stuck for 53 minutes, while passengers made 911 calls to Westport Police to report suspected cases of heat exhaustion and other health problems.

Only after a significant number of passengers appeared to become ill did conductors decide to open doors to ventilate cars and relieve the 100-plus-degree temperatures that were baking riders, Crosby said.

"It was the single worst experience I've ever had on Metro-North," she said. "There was absolutely no communication to let us know what was going on."

Diane Lisi, who commutes from the Fairfield station said she shares the outrage of commuters stuck on the 1:34 p.m. train, having had little or no communication from train crews during countless service mishaps in hot and cold weather over her years commuting to Manhattan.

"I've been on trains without light or with lights going on or off, and trains that just stop working and we have to walk a wooden plank across to a rescue train," Lisi said.

Lisi said she believes poor communication by Metro-North and its parent company, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is never corrected because there are no consequences for top brass.

"You are not fooling any of us and to have the audacity to raise our fares with the type of service we have," Lisi said. "Most of us commuters are really really tired...you're the most corrupt organization going."

The discussion of that day's problems led commuters, rail advocates, and others to criticize the railroad on a wide number of grounds, from rude conductors who don't collect tickets, to a lack of e-mail and Twitter updates about day-to-day delays.

In remarks to the audience, Permut apologized first to the riders of the 1:34 p.m. train, and then to all Metro-North customers for the breakdowns that day.

Both Permut and Redeker said the breakdowns have spurred new discussions about accelerating a $102.5 million project to replace the New Haven Line's catenary wires, most of which are more than 100 years old and the underlying cause of most the July 22 problems.

"What happened is completely alien to the type of service we want and like to run," Permut said. "But it is important to note that whatever improvements we make in terms of service will not change the fact we are operating on extremely fragile infrastructure in the state of Connecticut where the problems occurred."

Redeker said first-hand accounts from customers and repeated calls for better communications training for conductors on handling passengers during service crises were valuable.

"We know this is critical," Redeker said. --¦We're taking it very seriously and we're going to take all these ideas into consideration."

Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron told Permut and Redeker that critics have constantly asked the railroad to improve customer communications and to encourage conductors to be more congenial to little effect.

"In this case it is not about the old equipment or overhead wires but an issue of conductor training which we've talked about again and again," Cameron said.