Even with the arrival of new M-8 railcars, Metro-North Railroad and Connecticut must find billions to improve New Haven Line bridges and other equipment in order to avoid service problems, railroad President Howard Permut told commuters Wednesday night.
This year, the railroad is trying to complete installation of a new overhead catenary system within the 7-mile stretch between Bridgeport and Green's Farms, which has taken two of four tracks out of service in that area.
The railroad is also aiming to try to finish the last segment of replacing the worn-out overhead power system between Bridgeport and Stratford ahead of a 2021 completion date, Permut said.
A service crisis two winters ago that knocked many of the New Haven Line's railcars out of commission between January and March illustrates the pitfalls of replacing moveable rail bridges and other equipment improvements on the line, he said.
"As challenging as some of the issues are, I'm confident we will meet them," Permut said. "But it would be easy for us to slip back into major problems if we experience another period of underinvestment."
Permut and his management team spoke about the New Haven Line's pressing capital needs while fielding a range of questions about service, the M-8 cars and future priorities for the line and the railroad overall at an annual forum hosted by the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council, which primarily represents Hudson and Harlem line commuters from the Bronx, N.Y., and Westchester, Dutchess, Orange and other New York counties.
The car is regularly five cars long, she said.
Robert MacLagger, Metro-North vice president of planning, said avoiding crowding on the train would require extending the length of the easternmost of three tracks at the New Canaan station. All three tracks are used to store trains there to expedite morning service, but the third track has only space for five cars, MacLagger said.
Tim McCarthy, Metro-North's executive vice president of capital programs, said the railroad is also working with Kawasaki Rail Car Corp. to identify the cause of an engineering flaw on some of the couplings used to link the M-8s, which has resulted in banging noises.
The flaw doesn't pose a safety risk, he said.
Thomas Keller, a daily commuter from Mount Vernon West station, also questioned the rationale behind the railroad's move in late 2010 to eliminate monthly discounts on tickets purchased through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's web site or by mail and shortening the valid period in which tickets could be used last December.
"People have already paid for the ride so I don't see it as fair that it has an expiration at all," Keller said.
Permut said invalidation of the unused one-way and round-trip tickets within seven days instead of six months helps prevent lost revenue due to reuse of uncollected tickets.