Tag Archives: Metro North

Bruce Kasanoff: “Fix This Bridge, Or Connecticut Dies”

Bruce Kasanoff is a Westport-based ghostwriter and former Planning & Zoning  commissioner who works with entrepreneurs. He is also — most importantly for this story — a Metro-North rider.

Well, he rides when the trains are running. Which is not as often as he — or the rest of us — would like.

Yesterday, Forbes.com published his opinion piece: “Fix This Bridge, Or Connecticut Dies.” Bruce began:

Bruce Kasanoff

Bruce Kasanoff

I’m a big fan of bringing out the best in others, but even an optimist like me knows that when people act like they have rocks in their heads, to make progress you might have to bang some heads together.

Commuters who live in Connecticut and work in New York City are all in favor of banging some heads together. Most depend on the Metro-North train system to bring them in and out of the city. Over the past two years, service has gone from pretty good to consistently horrible – and it’s about to get worse.

Bruce described the issues, like fatal accidents that led (via additional safety requirements) to longer train rides and the stuck-twice-in-8-days South Norwalk bridge. He continued:

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy  was outraged by the latest failure, which I know because his office immediately issued a press release that said, “Let me be clear, this is outrageous.”

Last Call For The Bar Car

For decades, it’s been an enduring image of suburbia.

The business executive lingers over a 3-martini lunch. Later, he (it’s always a man) boards the train to Connecticut, heading straight to the bar car. In Westport he steps off the platform and rolls into Mario’s.

You can still order 3 martinis at lunch (unless you have a job). Mario’s will be here forever (we hope).

But — as of Friday — the bar car is gone. It’s joined the coal car and steam engine in that great switchyard in the sky.

Bar cars in 1968 (left) and 2010. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Bar cars in 1968 (left) and 2010. (Photos courtesy of the New York Times)

Metro-North‘s bar car — part of the commuting experience since the 1930s — fell victim to (of course) progress. Their design was incompatible with the railroad’s new M-8 cars, which have gone into service at the same time Metro-North has done 2 things previously believed impossible: take longer, and be less reliable.

Yesterday’s New York Times assured readers (and riders) that drinks will still be available at Grand Central, via carts near the tracks.

“It’s a rebranding,” said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. He’s a Staples grad (Class of 1994), so he may or may not have 1st-hand knowledge of the bar car.

But tens of thousands of Westport commuters do. Click “Comments” to share your memories. Due to the what-happens-in-the-bar-car-stays-in-the-bar-car nature of this topic, we’ll allow anonymous comments just this once.

More Metro-North Fun!

Alert “06880” reader David Lehman II sent this report, while en route to New York aboard another Metro-North circus train:

The 7:22 “express” from Westport was 8 minutes late.

The normal 10-car train has only 8 cars — and one is a bar car.

The car we’re in has no heat.

And the icing on the cake: The doors opened at East Norwalk off the track!  When Metro-North tells you not to lean in the doors, they definitely mean it.

Metro North East Norwalk


Railing About Failing

Josh Prince is a Westport commuter.

He’s also a blogger.

Metro-North: Watch out!

His “Longitude & Gratitude” blog is a grab-bag of clever, cogent observations about life in the burbs. The other day, though, Josh’s general good nature gave way to venting about Metro-North’s piss-poor performance recently this winter for a long goddamn time.

Usually, Josh takes out his anger by tweeting. He tweets photos of delay signs. Leaking roofs. Crowded cars.

(Photo/Josh Prince)

(Photo/Josh Prince)

This time, though, he had a few blessed days off the rails. He wrote: “I’ve tried to dial back my own vitriol by thinking about why Metro North yields such a level of rage in me and others, and by offering a few realistic, actionable ways the railroad might start to alleviate it.”

His 1st point was:

“Why does Metro-North make the average commuter’s head want to explode? In a nutshell, it’s the stark contrast in culture between the railroad’s ridership and its providership. ”

Josh said that many Metro-North riders work for companies that are performance-oriented. “We are held accountable for delivering, developing, growing, improving, innovating, and excelling,” he wrote.

Yes, that's water leaking in a Metro-North car. (Photo/Josh Prince)

Yes, that’s water leaking in a Metro-North car. (Photo/Josh Prince)

“This goes as much for interns and administrative folks as it does for mid- and senior-level people. We work all day (and often into the night) in competitive cultures with an underlying reality: if we don’t perform, there’s someone else hankering for the chance to do the same.”

And, he added, “most of our work cultures are customer- or client-centric. In order to survive, we have to understand what our customers want or need, and figure out how to deliver it better. What can we do better than our competitors to win the hearts and minds of our customers?  What satisfies them and brings them value? How can we serve them better?”

Quoting a comment made at last week’s open meeting  in Southport, Josh wrote: “If [Metro-North] was a restaurant, nobody would eat here, and if it was an airline, nobody would fly it. The real problem is that there is no responsibility being taken, and there won’t be any change until that happens.”

He challenged the new president, Joseph Giulietti: “Culture starts at the top.”

Change will take a while, Josh knows. But he offered a few smart ideas, which should not take long to put into place:

1) Use the digital station signs already. And have them show real information, including times. “Displaying the date at a train station is about as useful as showing altitude or windspeed,” Josh wrote.

(Photo/Josh Prince)

(Photo/Josh Prince)

2) Offer refunds for genuinely disastrous service. Even credit for a future ride would go a long way to restoring good will, Josh said.

3) Join the 21st century and accept credit cards on trains. “Cash only? In 2014?” Josh fumed. “I can pay for my morning coffee at a tiny start-up coffee shop with Square.”

Josh also suggested fixing the TrainTime app, updating the website, and improving the PA announcements.

Reasonable points, I say.

Metro-North: What do you say?

(To read Josh Prince’s full post, click here. Bonus feature: For Newsweek’s rant about Metro-North, click here.)

Weather Won’t Stall Tonight’s “Commuter Speakout”

The 1st-ever “Commuter Speakout” is still on for 7:30 tonight, at the Pequot Library in Southport.

Metro-North logoConnecticut Department of Transportation commissioner Jim Redeker will be joined by Metro-North officials from Operations and Customer Service. They’ll discuss why rail service has deteriorated, offer proposed fixes, and answer questions from commuters.

Sounds great — and very important.

But — sorry, I can’t help myself — let’s hope the “Metro-North officials” drive there.

With today’s weather, if they take the train they may never arrive.

Working On The Railroad: The Prequel

This morning’s post on commuter advocate John Hartwell was headlined: “He’s Been Working On The Railroad.”

That sent town art curator Kathie Bennewitz scurrying to the Westport Historical Society archives. She found this photo:

Saugatuck Railroad Station - construction

It’s undated. But an accompanying note says it shows “construction of Saugatuck RR Bridge.”

The sign on the right says “Slow to 10 M.”

The bridge was built well over a century ago. But Metro-North still slows down every day — unfortunately, everywhere from New Haven to New York.

John Hartwell Has Been Working On The Railroad

John Hartwell knows trains.

A longtime — and satisfied — commuter from Dobbs Ferry on Metro-North‘s Hudson Line, he was chagrined to find, after moving to suburban Boston, dirty trains without platforms, stations or parking.

The New Haven Line does have platforms, stations and (limited) parking. There are some new (lower capacity) (sometimes unheated) rail cars. Metro-North has slipped a notch or three from its better days.

And though Hartwell — who long ago moved from Massachusetts to Westport — is no longer a rail commuter, he plans to do something about the railroad mess.

In 2008 he ran for the State Senate. Transportation was a huge issue. He lost to Toni Boucher, but the next year earned an appointment to the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. Created by the state legislature, it’s an independent advocacy board for the Metro-North and Shore Line East railroads. When the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line is operational, that will be represented too.

During his 2008 campaign, John Hartwell (left) often met with commuters.

During his 2008 campaign, John Hartwell (left) often met with commuters.

Hartwell — now the council’s vice chair — admits that his major concern at first was the railroad’s economic impact on Fairfield County. But he quickly realized that in addition to maximizing Metro-North’s assets, the railway needed plenty of work — at many levels.

The basic infrastructure — tracks, bridges, catenaries — is 100 years old. An upgrade will cost between $3 billion to $7 billion. But no one — not politicians or taxpayers — wants to pay for it.

Senators Blumenthal and Murphy want to help, Hartwell says. Yet both lack clout. Their very senior predecessors — Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman — “did virtually nothing.”

The railroad “is vital to the economy of Fairfield County, which is vital to the economy of the state,” Hartwell says. “But we always go begging, hat in hand. Hartford sees Fairfield County as an ATM. They want to get money from us, not give it to us.”

The Westport train station -- one of many important stops on Metro-North.

The Westport train station — one of many important stops on Metro-North.

Metro-North’s management is aging too. Formed 30 years ago from the ashes of Conrail, many of its top managers are retiring. Strong replacements don’t seem ready to take over, Hartwell claims.

“Clearly, Metro-North is failing,” he says. The woes of the past month — a 2-hour stoppage just east of the Westport station, in 2-degree weather; a long delay caused by human error that shut down the entire system — have just put a spotlight on a railroad that has been sliding downhill for a long time.

Trains run slower than in the past. There are fewer seats. “There’s a lot of frustration,” Hartwell notes.

Connecticut Commuter Rail CouncilHe wants the Rail Commuter Council to establish “a much stronger relationship” with the state legislature than now exists. Local representatives Boucher and Gail Lavielle have been “very supportive,” Hartwell says. Many other legislators are far less receptive.

The Council has heard plenty of complaints. But they are always looking for constructive ideas. To voice your opinion directly, email johnhartwell@gmail.com.

And Now, A Word From Metro-North…

Last night — for 2 hours — train travel throughout the region ground to a halt. Grand Central turned into the world’s largest waiting room.

Unfortunately for Metro-North, it was the 2nd straight night of trouble. The previous evening, a train with 200 or so passengers stopped between Saugatuck and Green’s Farms stations. It took a couple of hours for the (unheated) passengers to reach safety.

Today, Metro-North has issued an explanation — and apology — for last night’s fiasco. It may not make you feel better, but here’s what happened:

The two-hour disruption in service you experienced last evening traced to human error during an electrical repair project.

Metro-North logoThe computers that run the railroad’s signal system lost reliable power at 7:45 PM when one of two main power supply units was taken out of service for replacement. Technicians performing the work did not realize that a wire was disconnected on the other main power supply unit. This destabilized the power supply system for more than an hour until a backup supply could be connected.

At the time this incident occurred, there were more than 50 trains at various locations on all three lines. While the cause of this power problem was being identified and repairs were being made, Rail Traffic Controllers immediately took the safest course of action.  They instructed all train engineers, via radio, to bring their trains to the nearest station. This had to be done slowly, train-by-train, to ensure everyone’s safety. Trains were not allowed to proceed through switches until signal maintainers could respond and manually ensure the switches were lined up correctly.

All trains had light, heat and power during the disruption, and no customers were ever in danger. Customers were able to get off trains when they reached a station.

Train station drop shadowRepairs were made by 9 PM.  Once repairs were made, the computers needed to reboot before we could begin running trains again.  Trains began moving again by 9:30 PM. Full control over the signal system was re-established by 10:30 PM.  Significant delays continued throughout the evening hours.

This project should have been analyzed for risks and redundancy before it began, and it should have been performed in the middle of the night over a weekend, not when thousands of customers were trying to get home in cold weather.  While this specific incident has been addressed and an internal review is underway, we are also bringing in an independent consultant to examine how and why these mistakes were made, and to recommend any necessary changes to operating procedures and practices.

Metro-North customers deserve better.  We sincerely regret this incident and apologize for the inconvenience our customers experienced.

Permitting Railroad Parking

With Metro-North‘s power back (more or less) to normal, an “06880” reader turns his fire on the railroad parking situation.

He says:

As one of hundreds of residents waiting for a parking permit, I receive the daily $5 ticket. However, the police station is not open on weekends, or hours that a working commuter can use. If you are restricted to paying online, egregious late fees kick in.

Why can’t the town charge non-permit holders slightly more monthly, annually, etc.? Even charging non-permit holders double the equivalent rate that permit holders pay, we would save hundreds of dollars per year.

An annual pass is $325, whereas the $5 daily rate works out to $1,200 a year. There should be an option to buy a longer-dated pass at this rate.

train station parking

Also, mailing in checks doesn’t work for commuters who utilize the federal tax advanced commuter benefit accounts/flex spending accounts, and need to pay via credit card.

Another problem: I had to take my wife’s car one day. When you go to pay online, it’s only on one vehicle. I discovered too late that the 1-day $5 fee for my wife’s car turned into $75. There has to be a better way.

Paying almost 4 times as much as permit holders is fine. Just make it easier to pay, and not get hit with excessive fees.

“06880” readers: What do you think? Hit “Comments” to reply.

Welcome To The Real World!

This morning, hundreds of Staples seniors begin internships.

For the next month they’ll work at law firms, advertising agencies, research labs, non-profits, stores and more, from here to New York.

It’s a great taste of the real world, just before graduation and whatever lies ahead beyond high school.

But talk about bad timing!

Nothing can prepare a teenager for the real world like commuting — on one of the most chaotic days in Fairfield County transportation history.