Rail travails: Metro-North battles winter cutbacks
Nearly one-third of Metro-North's Railroad's New Haven Line trains have been knocked out of service by this winter's continuing harsh conditions, which is expected to lead to severe overcrowding when commuters return to work Monday.
The railroad implemented a reduced Sunday schedule for Saturday in an effort to allow crews to dig out frozen rail switches, clear rail yards and sweep snow off the pantographs on the tops of trains. Over the weekend, the railroad plans to use six trains equipped with jet blowers to keep rails along the New Haven Line clear, said Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.
"We are still battling, it is not over," Anders said adding the railroad has repair crews working around the clock to fix broken rail cars and maintain the infrastructure of tracks and overhead catenary wires.
The railroad has been using diesel locomotives to help supplement the fleet and make up for the loss of more than 100 of the state's 347 rail cars, but commuters have been seeing shortened trains with fewer seats.
Anders said the railroad expects to be able to accommodate passengers over the weekend despite the reduced service schedule, but beyond that, she said they're taking it on a day-to-day basis.
The railroad is trying to avert a recurrence of its "winter of discontent" in 2004 when 126 cars were knocked out by snow and ice and nearly brought service to a halt.
The bulk of Connecticut's fleet of rail cars was built in the 1970s and is particularly sensitive to cold-weather conditions, as drifting snow can make its way into electronic circuitry and wiring mounted in plastic boxes beneath the trains.
Door motors are also prone to shorting out, and earlier this week a commuter posted a video on YouTube showing a moving train with a malfunctioning door.
"They're doing the best they can with an impossible situation with broken-down equipment that should have been replaced 15 years ago," Cameron said.
Connecticut commuters have been awaiting the first of the next generation of M-8 rail cars, which have been delayed by more than a year due to computer and other electrical problems.
"I'm just praying for an early spring. There's nothing else we can do," Cameron said.