Commuters hope Metro-North RR rebounds from winter's scourge
Published 4:18 pm, Tuesday, February 8, 2011
On Monday, the 6:33 a.m. train from Glenbrook arrived on time for one of the first times in a month, said Greg Guroian, 25, though the train was still crowded. Many of Metro-North Railroad's electric cars have been sidelined by weather-related mechanical problems this winter.
Some mornings, when no seats were available, Guroian opted to switch at Stamford for the 6:44 a.m. train to Grand Central Terminal hoping to sit, a dicey move if the second train ran late.
He hopes Metro-North's reduced schedule put into effect Monday to help improve on-time performance will ensure trains run on time, Guroian said.
"The biggest thing has been that the trains are crowded," Guroian said Monday aboard the 5:29 p.m. train to New Canaan. "I like to have a seat, but if trains are running half an hour late and you're late to work that's a big deal."
Passengers on the 5:29 p.m. train, and other runs to Danbury, Bridgeport and New Haven, complained about the toll of this winter's daily schedule delays and overcrowding, though some remained optimistic the reduced winter schedule might mean fewer breakdowns.
Rail officials said the schedule was necessary because of extensive damage to aging M-2, M-4, and M-6 rail cars from windblown snow made it impossible to keep more than 50 or 60 percent of them in service.
"My train was on time for the first time forever," Noroton Heights commuter Scott Somerville said onboard the 5:10 p.m. peak train to Danbury. "The schedule changes don't really impact my trains so it isn't that different."
Riders expressed skepticism about the debut of the state's new fleet of M-8 rail cars after initial expectations of them debuting this winter were put off until at least this month because of software and electrical glitches.
"The rail cars were supposed to be here, but there is always an excuse," Westport resident Alan Puklin said. "In a sense we're lucky the equipment is running as well as it is for the age it is."
With the elimination of the 5:08 p.m. express train to New Canaan, the 5:29 p.m. run was more packed than usual, passengers said, though some found a silver lining if they looked hard enough.
As many as a dozen people who were too late to get seats jammed the car vestibules on the train, with additional passengers spilling over into the aisles.
Carpi, 46, said the shortage of seats was unpleasant, though he said New Canaan riders get first dibs on seats on morning trains, faring better than passengers from Glenbrook and Springdale.
"I hate to complain, because there are worse ways to commute, but it is a real pain in the neck," Carpi said. "I would just say it was poor planning, but at this point I'll be happy to see new trains."
Paul Morton, a real estate executive who lives in Wilton, said he thought riders without seats should be refunded some or all of their fare; he added that riders on the New Canaan line pay relatively little for their travel, with the $264 monthly ticket being a modest price.
"That's been a very good price to pay though lately the return has not been too good," the 57-year-old said. "But without a seat you are not in a real sense getting what you pay for."
Metro-North said reducing the schedule from 59 to 53 trains on Monday morning shores up its plummeting on-time performance from an average of 60 percent last week to 86.4 percent on Monday, spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
Two weeks ago, at an oversight hearing, state Department of Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Parker told lawmakers on the Connecticut General Assembly's Transportation Committee the state is aiming for the first set of M-8 cars to debut in late February, though he stopped short of a guarantee.
Ryan Thom, 45, of New Canaan, said that he thinks Metro-North's performance has been creditable given the difficulty keeping the 1970s-era M-2 cars in working order after January's record snowfalls.
"They gave a pretty reasonable explanation about the snow breaking the old equipment but I can't wait to get the new trains," Thom said. "In a way I chalk it up as being just another mild inconvenience on a mass transit system."