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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Talking Transportation: the Commute From Hell

By Jim Cameron

Special to WestportNow

If misery loves company, riders on Metro-North often delight in tales of their commuting woes. Here are a couple of recent incidents that are real doozies.

talkingtransportation250.jpg

On Sept. 27, the 4:50 p.m. Shore Line East Silver Streak from Stamford to New Haven made it just past Norwalk before the engine gave out. 

After 15 minutes, the conductor told passengers they were “working on” the diesel and that if it couldn’t be fixed, a replacement would be sent. 

An hour after the breakdown, word came “a new engine is on its way.” After another hour (the delay now totaling two hours and 15 minutes), the engine arrived from New Haven and the train lumbered as far as Bridgeport before further inexplicable delays.

In the meantime, passengers were in limbo with no communications. Not seeing any sign of a conductor, passengers roamed the three-car set seeking answers. 

One rider even commandeered the PA system asking, “Does anybody know what’s going on?” Turns out the one lone conductor on the three-car train had taken cover in his booth! 

Metro-North later apologized for the lack of communications and the conductor was chewed out for hiding rather than helping.

Then, just last week, a Danbury-bound train was similarly stalled out, this time brought to a halt by slippery leaves.

Branch riders had been warned that day they may have to take buses part of the way home due to the annual ritual of decomposing wet leaves and the steep grade combining to make even a multi-ton locomotive lose the friction war with Mother Nature.

So, on Friday, Oct. 26, the 5:16 out of Stamford rolled out on time but never made it past Branchville. Try as it did to make it up the hill, several times, the train eventually gave up, dumping all of its weary riders in the tiny hamlet where a bus transfer was promised. 

An hour and 45 minutes later, one bus arrived. It was immediately filled, leaving 100 passengers on the platform. A second bus didn’t show up for more than a half hour. Mind you, all this was happening in the rain.

As one commuter recounted, “Not once (during the entire time) did the conductor make one announcement as to what was going on.” 

Once again, passengers were calling Metro-North’s help line to find out was happening on their train while being ignored by the onboard staff. 

When passengers finally tracked down the conductor he was, you guessed it—hiding in his booth. He claimed there was a PA problem, though he never walked through the three-car train to explain what was going on.

If this is what happens when a train is brought to its knees by wet leaves, imagine what would happen in a real emergency? How would passengers know how to evacuate a train or deal with the injured when the lone conductor in the crew is too afraid to face the paying public?

I’ve written at length about conductors who neglect to collect tickets from all riders, but incidents like these lose the railroad more than money. They cost Metro-North credibility, goodwill and any confidence commuters might still have that things will ever get better on their commute from hell.

We can, perhaps, understand it when something mechanical breaks down. But the breakdown in communications is inexcusable. Maybe the conductors are tired of having to apologize for delays and such.

That’s too bad. As the face of the railroad it is always their job to explain what’s happening and keep riders informed.

That incidents like these happen more and more often tells me that Metro-North has some serious training problems. No pun intended.
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jimcameron75.jpg(Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron has been a commuter out of Darien for 16 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 http://www.trainweb.org/ct)

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Posted 10/31/07 at 03:06 AM  Permalink



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Cowering in the closet, heh?  Maybe some passenger should lock’m in there for good.

Posted by adam schorr on October 31, 2007 at 01:04 PM | #
 

Frankly, I believe that it’s time for Metro North to begin a plan to phase out train conductors.  The cost savings would be significant and the amount of monies collected from ticket sales would probably increase.  I ride from Westport to Stamford daily and only have my ticket checked 50% of the time.  Conductors should be replaced with a system similar to the BART in California.  BART riders can’t get onto the train platform without a ticket and THERE ARE NO CONDUCTORS ON ANY OF THE TRAINS.  Finally, any conductor who is found “hiding” from the riders during a break-down or emergency situation should be fired immediately. If you can’t or won’t do what the job entails, then go work somewhere else!!!!

Posted by Althea Fleming on October 31, 2007 at 05:14 PM | #
 

Our Organization acknowledges and appreciates the work of watchdog groups such as Connecticut Commuter Counsel. However, we also feel compelled to set the record straight.

First and foremost, our crew members are dedicated, hard working, and have received the highest rating by the riding public. Conductors do the very best they can working under adverse conditions, especially on the New Haven Division. As a matter of fact they have won the American Public Transportation Award more than once and will continue to do so.

Now to the heart of the matter.At times, on the New Haven Division, the PA systems fail, trains are overcrowded, train consists are short cars and crew members. Obviously the author never gets all the facts surrounding each incident when trouble arises on our system, so it is understandable he would direct his wrath towards conductors.

The real culprit is not conductors, but the failure to update and replace equipment that is past its life cycle. For the publics information the equipment is over 34 years old. New rehab on these cars did not begin until 2 years ago. New equipment (M-8’s) are another 2 years from delivery. Thanks to Governor M. Jodi Rell addressing these problems the future looks much brighter for New Haven Commuters. So be advised problems will continue to exist on the New Haven until the new fleet arrives. Until then Metro North and its crew members will continue to be easy targets for the misinformed.

The solution is not embellishment by the author who lacks objectivity when he targets “easy pickings” such as hard working conductors. The remedy is making sure we support this Governor and her commitment to the riding public and a continuous CAPITAL PLAN for Connecticut that addresses Commuter and Mass Transit needs well into the future.

Sincerely
Anthony Bottalico
General Chairman,ACRE
Representing Conductors & Assistant Conductors on Metro North

Posted by Anthony Bottalico on November 01, 2007 at 06:07 PM | #
 

Wait, new cars will make for better conductors?  If a train is short cars, shouldn’t it be overstaffed?

Mr Bottalico does not dispute the incidents reported, however biased they might be.  A conductor’s first priority is safety (which includes communicating with the passengers), and if he balks at that responsibility, then he should be called on it.

Mr Cameron has been very vocal about the poor condition of the existing cars, and fully supportive of the new M-8s.  Until his most recent articles, I would have argued that he was too soft on MetroNorth.

Personally, all the conductors I have interacted with have been fine upstanding individuals.  However, I don’t ride the rails that much, as I can never find a parking place.

Posted by Dan Lasley on November 01, 2007 at 07:03 PM | #
 

I do not know where to begin.

Have any of you ridden other, similiar transportation systems around the country? DC metro, for example, (who also has you pay to be on platform) certainly could be something some of us would wish to have.

This, is a luxary, what wonderful transportation services we have for us…trains leaving as early as 5am and late as 2am its quite accommodating.

I travel the metro frequently. Late trains can be frustrating, we all have important places to be. But saying goes, *it* happens. It’d be childish to damn Metro New Haven lines performance.

Its relieable, a lovely luxery many don’t have; and with out it our communities wouldn’t thrive and provide the great commernce which towns like Westprot have.
Am I wrong?

and the fares? the fares are very fair. And if they don’t click your ticket I don’t see the worry in that either. Many of us have monthly passes anyway and shouldn’t have to worry if you ticket isn’t checked.

And, the conditions of the train cars are infact not liken to some of the newer metro models, yes…(like white plains lines)...but they are great. I’ve traveled the subways way to much…our cars are beautiful and still let you have your drink, cocktail and or snack. DC metro bans any food or any drink of any kind.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is accidents happen, lay off our Metro system. Its a great luxury. and accidents happen. More so with buses and cars. It is safe and should be highly appreciated.

The line also accomadates multiple freight lines, Power lines, and Amtrak, whose track reccord is something better to examine whereas its more poor then the Metro

Posted by Carl David Pino on November 06, 2007 at 06:10 AM | #
 

Mr Pino,
Respectfully, are you kidding? 
“Accidents happen”?
“It doesn’t matter if they don’t collect fares”?
“Our cars are beautiful”?
PuLLLLEEEEAAAASSSEEE!
I write this on the 7:23 out of SoNo. . Gotta switch cars because this one smells like a well traveled PortaPotty after a long, hot August afternoon.

Posted by adam schorr on November 06, 2007 at 01:35 PM | #
 

You missed my point Adam,

I have to switch cars all the time,
it is just something we sometimes have to deal with.

I personally try and avoid the portapotty car,
yeah, that is something they can change.

Beautiful in comparisson to other transit systems in our country YES.

One would be really spoiled to have to ache over their issues with our system.

...then again, we live in a town where people still drive their big cars w/ no care in the world for a better world, carry their little dogs in purses into the starbucks, and really flaunt their “bling” around….

but thats off the topic. YES! Accidents do happen,
Metro North New Haven lines track record is better then other metro systems in the east coast alone, especially (like I said) compaired to Amtrak who shares the same line.

Accidents SHOULDN’T happen, but sir,
they do.
And that is how life is sometimes. More accidents happen on 95 and the merrit, escecially with trucks and buses and Sports Utility Vehicles.

Yeah, I hate the smell of the porta potty too…
but you missed my poind dear Adam,
It is what it is and we should see it as a luxary, be thankful. (Subway systems in NYC? Ride those? i mean, do you want Limo quality train lines???)
Its just a transit system, its not some 1st class scenic joy ride to our meetings…(tho the ride is fairly scenic from new haven to harlem…)

I don’t see much to raise our noses it, as all I am saying.

Lets talk about bad drivers in Westport, or people on their cell phones while people are trying to serve them at our local coffee shops (etc…) or how about the traffic mess issues on 95.

These matter mentioned in said article are maybe a cause for concern but nothing to hollar on ones Soap Box about.

I am not kidding.

ps- Arn’t you glad your ticket doesn’t get clicked sometimes? I mean jeeesh, helps me eat dinner sometimes, ...i am pretty poor fellow…and would rather not be blowin whistles and tootin horns about this “issue” on tickets.

Posted by Carl David Pino on November 06, 2007 at 04:57 PM | #
 

The fares are too high and going higher. 
Why should tickets cost ever more (dinner money: yours and mine!) due to Metro North’s inability to collect each and every rider’s revenue on the same 30+ year old decrepit cars? 
We all would like a free lunch, but, nobody rides for free. 
Metro North should strive for excellence, not status quo.

Posted by adam schorr on November 06, 2007 at 05:47 PM | #
 

This, I agree on.
I don’t like the idea of the fare hikes,
how lame! Maybe if they DID collect all the tickets they could REDUCE the fares…

I still have no issues with the cars. Old yes, but still a luxary compaired to others-situations….
but,
I get annoyed in the summer when their is no air conditioning, or when the ride is a little rough, or when an Amtrak engine takes down power lines haulting the metro’s service…

But we have to just deal, I guess…maybe metro should provide “doctors notes” for when I am late for work and meetings because some kinda malfunction happened…

But maybe I am easy going. I still appreciate that we have such a metro system in place.

Back to the ‘bar car’ qualities of it tho; at least we can have a beer as we trudge on home (or into the city for a night out). And again we can eat on the train. I have a bone to pick with people who eat their “smelly” food on the train; yet I suppose it is a good thing. Many transit systems ban food, impose fines, and kick off offenders.

I am glad we can see eye to eye now.
Funny, tho…do you think they can do something about people having their loud cell phone conversations on the train? Some have real important issues to talk about; while others, yapp about their tennis game, shoes they bought, or other such bull-stuffs… the MTA Police are good people, and should be there to hault cell phone gossipers; besides, you lose service every few miles the train travels anyhow.

Oh what’adu…. we shall see what things shalll come, but fair hikes won’t improve much…

Posted by Carl David Pino on November 06, 2007 at 06:23 PM | #