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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Talking Transportation: Crunch Time for Metro-North

By Jim Cameron

Special to WestportNow

Fresh and rested from their summer vacations, commuters are in for a rude surprise when they board Metro-North trains this week—no seats, more overcrowding and problems with the AC.


Yes, better times are ahead. The new contract for the M8 cars has been signed and bonding money has been approved. But it won’t be until 2009 that even a prototype for the new cars is delivered for testing. So figure on 2010 before we commuters will actually ride in one.

Meantime, ridership on Metro-North continues to climb. It’s up 5 percent this year with no sign of it leveling off anytime soon. And those additional passengers are scrambling for seats on a dwindling number of rail cars.

July saw only eight trains out of 10 with enough cars, down from nine trains out of 10 last summer.

Air conditioning has been spotty at best. At the Commuter Council meeting the other night, CDOT told us that 90-plus percent of all trains have AC. 

However, council members riding home after the meeting found there wasn’t a single car on their eight-car train that had AC. So much for statistics.

As bad as service has been in some past winters, the summers are proving an increasing problem for the railroad. Ask why and you’ll hear logical explanations—the aging fleet, sagging overhead catenary (electric) wires in the summer heat, inadequate service facilities.

Again, plans are underway to fix all of those situations, but it’ll take time. And we’re talking years, not months.

As for now, what’s a commuter to do?  How can you cope with crowding on your favorite train or on cars without AC?  A few suggestions from veteran riders:

1. Alter your schedule: You might find that by taking an earlier or later train there’s less crowding.  A lot depends on where the train starts, so check the timetable to see if you’re among the first passengers to board, or the last, when it’s probably crowded.

2. Take two trains: If you board a train that’s full, see if you can switch to another train enroute.  Often by stepping off a jammed train at Stamford and catching a new train which starts there, you can have your pick of seats and get into Grand Central only 10 minutes later.

3. If you must stand, chose wisely: The best place for standees is the bar car where there’s room to spread out. The vestibule (doorway) on regular cars often has a little room for sitting, albeit on the floor. But by all means, try to not stand in the aisles. If you’re lucky, the train will be so crowded the conductor won’t even try to collect tickets.

4. If you’re in a “hot car,” report it: Odds are you’ll enjoy one of Metro-North’s “Sauna Cars” before the winter, but don’t assume “they” are working on the problem. 

The railroad counts on commuters (and crews) to report “hot cars,” so do your part.  Make note of the car number (found at the rear and outside of each car), the train number (found in the timetable), date and time of the incident, and report it to 1-800-RAIL-HOT.  That will start the repair wheels turning.

As I say, things will get better in the coming years, but we’ve got some rough track ahead on Metro-North. Together, we’ll make it through.
jimcameron75.jpg(Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron has been a commuter out of Darien for 15 years. He is chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. The opinions and accuracy of information in this article are the responsibility of the contributor. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or


Posted 08/30/06 at 04:33 PM  Permalink


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This is depressing.  The condition of the New Haven line rail fleet is pathetic.  And it’s due fully to willful negligence by the Republican leadership in the state government over the past decade.  Rowland deserves the bulk of the blame for deferring an upgrade of the fleet for years—but why has it taken so long since Rell took office just to get the financing in place for the new cars that we won’t see for 4 or 5 more years?  And what about those used railcars that Rowland bought just before he resigned, what 2-3 years ago?  I’m told they sat unattended for more than a year and are only now undergoing rehabilitation and they won’t even be in service until next year.  This happened on Rell’s watch.  Has the governor stood on an overcrowded, overheated, decrepit rail car for the hour-long ride to or from Grand Central lately?  Bet not! 

More people are riding Metro North because of high gas prices—that’s good because it takes cars off the road.  But those of us who depend on the train every day don’t deserve the declining reliability and service and pathetic conditions that we are increasingly receiving.  We need action from smart public officials, not more foot-dragging and incompetence.  It’s time to clean house.

Posted by Andy Yemma on August 30, 2006 at 07:12 PM | #