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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Talking Transportation: Fire on the Train

By Jim Cameron

Special to WestportNow

WestportNow.com Image
Smoke filled a Metro-North train in the Park Avenue tunnel last week. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo
It was a typical Thursday, mid-afternoon, when Metro-North train No.1540 pulled out of Grand Central on time at 3:34 pm, heading for New Haven. But this train’s journey on Jan. 26 was to be anything but normal.

As told to me by an eyewitness, here is what happened: Snaking its way through the underground yards, the train started toward the Park Avenue tunnel when passengers in the fourth car of the eight-car train started smelling smoke. 

Though they didn’t know it, a traction motor on the 1994-built M6 car, one of the newest in our aging fleet, had caught fire.

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There were no flames, but there surely was smoke, not only in the fourth car but the three others that followed it. As that smoke grew thicker, being pumped into the car by the ventilation system, passengers started coughing and looking for help. 

Because there is no intercom system on our trains, one of the passengers reached up to the ceiling and pushed the conductor buzzer system used to communicate with the motorman driving the train.  A voice came over the PA system and, rather than explaining the smoke condition and what was being done, told them to “lay off of the buzzer!”

By now the train had stopped, still underground.  A conductor moved forward, trying to trip the circuit-breakers for the burning motor and to shut off the HVAC fans still pumping acrid smoke into the cars. 

When that was accomplished, passengers were told to “move forward” to the unaffected cars, and the train continued north through the tunnels to 125th Street. Finally arriving at the above-ground station eight minutes later, the doors opened and the train was evacuated. 

Another train was dispatched from GCT to pick up the stranded passengers and they continued on their journey.  There were no injuries but lots of rattled nerves.

This is at least the third such fire on Metro-North New Haven line trains in recent years. None got much publicity. Were it not for an eyewitness to this fire (who was also equipped with a cell phone camera) who contact me on behalf of the Commuter Council, this incident might never have been reported. 

(Metro-North told me they had no reports of a fire but there had been a “smoke condition.”  Well, where there’s smoke…)
 
I’m not critical of the crew for the handling of this fire, nor the over-taxed maintenance staff that works 24 / 7 trying to keep our cars in service.  I’m just wondering how this fire might have been prevented or how the evacuation could have been expedited through better communications with the passengers.

The Commuter Council will be following up on this case with the authorities, and I’ll let you know what we find.
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jimcameron75.jpg(Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 14 years. He is vice chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council and a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, one of five Transportation Investment Areas established by the Connecticut General Assembly in July 2001 to develop 20-year strategic plans for each of the state’s major transportation corridors. He is also a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting. 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 http://www.trainweb.org/ct  For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see http://www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com)

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Posted 01/29/06 at 01:48 PM  Permalink



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