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Friday, November 30, 2007

Metro-North Abruptly Cancels Platform Changes

UPDATE Less than 24 hours after announcing platform changes affecting riders on Metro-North’s New Haven Line beginning Monday, the railroad today abruptly canceled the changes. (See WestportNow Nov. 29, 2007)

Metro-North gave no reason for the about-face, but Gov. M. Jodi Rell said in a statement a short time later that she had stepped in and ordered the reversal. She also criticized her Department of Transportation for its handling of the matter.

“The original plan was simply unacceptable to commuters and to me,” Rell said.

There was intense criticism from commuter advocates following Thursday’s announcement that all morning rush-hour trains to New York at 12 New Haven Line stations will arrive on the opposite track while overhead catenary wires are upgraded.

The advocates said there was too short notice and many riders would be inconvenienced by lack of shelters and ticket machines on opposite platforms at some stations.

Metro-North said it would use “bridge plates” in stations from Fairfield to Noroton Heights so commuters can walk from the southbound platforms across one track to board New York City-bound trains.

Rell said this was “a common-sense solution” that will minimize disruption for the thousands of Connecticut commuters who head into the city every day.

“I am pleased that the DOT and Metro-North have resolved this issue,” she said.

Rell said she had heard from many commuters about their concerns that the Metro-North plan would have required them to wait in the cold, without shelter or heat.

“The heated waiting rooms on the New York-bound side would have been unused and vendors in those spaces could have suffered severe financial impacts,” she said. 

Because there are no ticket machines on the New Haven bound side, commuters would also have been subject to a $5 surcharge for buying tickets on the train, Rell said.

The governor’s office said she also directed the DOT to increase future communications about the catenary project or any other issues that could affect service on the rail line.

She noted that the boarding plan she reversed was announced just days before the change was due to take effect

“There is no excuse for that kind of lack of communication and the DOT is well aware that this is not to happen again,” Rell said.

“The New Haven line is one of the busiest rail lines in the country and commuters rely on this service to get to their places of business. We have an obligation to ensure that the most up-to date information is provided to them in a timely manner.”

Rell’s office said the bridge plates have been used with great success during earlier stages of this project at Metro-North stations in South Norwalk, Rowayton and Darien, and have had no impact on on-time performance.

It is anticipated that the same will be the case during this next phase of the project, when the bridge plates are installed at the Fairfield, Southport, Green’s Farms, Westport and East Norwalk stations, the governor’s office said.

On-time performance will be closely monitored and any potential adjustments will be assessed on an ongoing basis, it said.

In a mid-morning advisory, Metro-North said: “The platform changes scheduled to begin the morning of Monday, Dec. 3, affecting Milford to Noroton Heights stations have been canceled.”

The advisory urged riders to use caution while boarding trains, adding, “There may be some delays to your train service associated with this operation.”

Jim Cameron, chair of the Commuter Council and a WestportNow columnist, said his group had no advance word of the platform changes.

“CDOT never told us of this crazy plan,” Cameron said in a statement. “And it’s obvious no consideration was given to how much this plan would have inconvenienced our 110,000 daily riders.”

Had the plan gone through, New York-bound passengers would have been waiting on unsheltered platforms exposed to Winter weather without access to heated waiting rooms, he said.

“When the Commuter Council learned of this plan we immediately protested to CDOT,” said Cameron.  “We were told this plan, while inconvenient, was necessary and there was no recourse.”

During a day of intense lobbying, Cameron said the Commuter Council enlisted support of local and state elected officials who helped bring the issue to the attention of Rell

He said the railroad’s bridge plates may mean an additional minute of “dwell time” at each station.

“Overall, that may mean trains are a few minutes late arriving in Stamford on their run, but my experience is they easily make up that time during the rest of their trip to Grand Central,” he said.

Cameron added that, “I’m glad that wiser minds have prevailed at CDOT.” 

He said he was grateful to all of the commuters, first selectmen, state representatives and senators who spoke up on behalf of their commuter constituents. 

“Once again, it took Governor Rell to force CDOT to rethink its plan and not leave commuters out in the cold,” Cameron said.

“Clearly, the ends (necessary caternary work) do not always justify the means (shivering commuters on exposed platforms).”

The Commuter Council will receive an update on the project at its next meeting on Wednesday Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. in the offices of SWRPA, 888 Washington St., Stamford.

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Posted 11/30/07 at 05:57 PM  Permalink



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Kudos to the gov for fixing this in the nick of time time. And shame on Metro North for it’s continuing lack of empathy and communication with its customers, captive though we may be.

Posted by Andy Yemma on November 30, 2007 at 10:30 PM | #