Someone once said: “Judge me by my actions, not my words.” So let’s do just that, comparing recent rhetoric to reality when it comes to Metro-North.
EXPANDED SERVICE: During the election campaign much was made of a promised expansion of off-peak train service, growing from one train an hour to two. But when the new timetable came out Nov. 9, riders found that the 14 newly added weekday trains don’t stop at five stations: Southport, Greens Farms, East Norwalk, Rowayton and Noroton Heights.
Despite pleas from the CT Commuter Rail Council, the Connecticut Department of Transportation chose to skip those stations to save 10 minutes’ running time between New Haven and Grand Central Station. There was never an expectation that the new trains would be semi-express, just a promise of expanded service. What happened?
ADEQUATE SEATING: Though we now have more rail cars than ever before, thanks to delivery of the new M8s, many trains still don’t have seats for every passenger. The railroad’s own “Passenger Pledge” promises every effort to provide adequate seating, and Metro-North’s statistics claim that 99.6% of all trains have enough cars. So why the standees?
ON TIME PERFORMANCE: Yes, safety should always come first. But October saw only 86.7% of trains arrive “on time” (defined as up to six minutes late). In the morning rush hour, On Time Performance was only 82%. And this is despite three timetable changes since the spring, lengthening scheduled running times to reflect new Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) speed restrictions. They keep moving the ‘target’ and still can’t get a bulls-eye.
SAFETY: After taking its lickings from the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, Metro-North has proclaimed it’s a new day at the railroad, that a new “culture of safety” is ingrained in its employees. But in early November, a collision was avoided by seconds after track crews erected bridge plates in front of an oncoming train at Noroton Heights. And there have been at least three incidents of conductors opening train doors that were off the platform where commuters could have fallen and been injured.
RELIABLE SERVICE: The new M8 cars are performing well. But diesel push-pull service on the Danbury and Waterbury branch lines has been unreliable. September saw several locomotive fires and break-downs, stranding passengers or forcing “bustitutions” (bus substitutions).
COURTEOUS EMPLOYEES: Most Metro-North staff do a great job under often-times difficult circumstances. But there are clearly some employees who either hate their jobs, their customers or both. Hardly a week goes by without The Commuter Action Group hearing complaints about surly conductors snapping at passengers. Yet it’s hard to complain because these staffers violate railroad rules requiring them always to wear their name badges.
It’s been a year since a sleepy engineer drove a train off the tracks in the Bronx, killing four and injuring 70. As Metro-North President Joe Giulietti himself acknowledged, the railroad has lost the trust of its customers. Rebuilding goodwill, like the infrastructure, will take years.
JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 23 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com