Metro-North riders get chance to vent
Published 12:30 pm, Monday, February 17, 2014
A shortage of rail cars, late trains and service changes typical of the New Haven Line have left Peter Garneau resigned to more trouble each morning, the Springdale commuter said.
And on Friday morning, New Haven Line riders faced severely cramped conditions when the railroad ran a weekend schedule, providing about 40 percent of the usual capacity, Garneau said.
"Nothing has really changed," he said. "They just continue to be late all the time, and they've lost all sense of being on any kind of schedule."
New Haven Line riders will have a chance to press the state's transportation commissioner for answers and vent their anger at a Commuter Speakout Tuesday night.
The forum, sponsored by the Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby, will be at 7:30 p.m., at the Pequot Library, at 720 Pequot Ave., in the Southport section of Fairfield. In addition to state Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker, two executives from Metro-North Railroad are expected to be on hand.
"Primarily, the commuters need to know they are listened to and heard, because they have been long suffering," Jill Kelly, chairwoman of the Citizens Transportation Lobby said. "What's going on with the New Haven Line is disgraceful, and Fairfield County commuters have had enough."
In the past year, the railroad has experienced a slew of crises and bungled management calls that have dramatically impacted service, beginning with the derailment of one train and collision with another in Bridgeport last May that injured 76 people.
Two other fatal accidents -- including a derailment in the Bronx, N.Y., that killed four in December -- a two-week service shutdown in September and October, and woes with late trains due to track maintenance and repair efforts exacerbated commuter ire.
In December, the Federal Railroad Administration inspectors began vetting Metro-North's track and worker-safety practices for compliance with federal regulations, and riders have grown more impatient to have service return to a higher standard.
In 2014, the railroad has continued to stumble. A Jan. 23 incident brought Metro-North to a standstill for more than three hours in subzero temperatures when a maintenance crew pulled the power supply of the entire system's centralized signal computer, leaving controllers unable to monitor train positions.
Two weeks ago, a railroad employee was charged with sexually assaulting a female passenger on a New Haven-bound train late in the rush hour on the morning of Jan. 28.
Redeker said he hopes to arrange more face-to-face sessions between the railroad with commuters, calling consumer input as important to improving Metro-North as the current federal scrutiny.
"There is nothing wrong with looking at the safety issues, infrastructure issues, and railroad practices, but I also think just as important or more important is the voices of commuters," Redeker said.
On Monday, Redeker and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy are scheduled to meet with new Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti about his long-term plans to restore reliable service, maintain safety, and improve management of the railroad.
Giulietti has been invited to the Southport forum, but Metro-North spokeswoman Meredith Daniels had no comment on whether he would attend on Tuesday.
"When we've done forums a couple of times, customers came out and were appreciative that we listened, and frankly that is the only way to run a service business," Redeker said. "I'm hoping it becomes part of the changes at Metro-North that this kind of feedback becomes more routine."
This weekend, following on a series of similar requests for increased transparency, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called on the Federal Railroad Administration to share 10 years of Metro-North safety inspection records.
"Recent incidents involving Metro-North clearly show the need for renewed focus on railroad safety and reliability," Blumenthal wrote in a letter to Joseph C. Szabo, FRA administrator. "Although causes must be determined, Metro-North must confront questions about adequacy of equipment, tracks, and maintenance and repair practices."
Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the FRA, said the agency intended to cooperate and provide the records.
Hearst Connecticut Media filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the same documents on Dec. 4 of last year. The FRA has not provided Hearst with an estimate of when it would make those records available.
Jim Cameron, head of the Commuter Action Group, which is co-sponsoring the forum, said he hopes the event will give commuters answers about why trains have been so late this winter and about decisions such as Friday's service reduction.
"I'm looking for incremental signs of change that Giulietti is having some effect," Cameron said, "and Friday was the first time his administration had failed commuters by failing to dispatch enough trains."
The state's new fleet of M8 railcars have experienced a higher than expected number of problems this winter. Harsh weather has revealed a design flaw in the cars, which have become crippled when fans from their auxiliary power systems have sucked in snow and shorted out.
Cameron said if the M8's are expected to be out of service in great numbers through the spring, the railroad should be straightforward with riders about the design flaw.
"Those issues have not been addressed, and those specific questions have not necessarily been raised," Cameron said.