Metro-North RR commuters vent over winter woes
Lauren Jensen asked Metro-North Railroad officials, at a Wednesday night hearing in Stamford, if they'd reimburse some of her travel costs because buses are being substituted for train service on the Waterbury Line during this winter's service breakdowns.
Jensen, a Waterbury resident, said she is unable to use her ticket because of bus shuttles' unpredictable schedules running between Waterbury and Bridgeport.
"I've had to leave from a main-line station to reach my job in Stamford at a reasonable hour," Jensen said.
Sue Doerning, Metro-North's vice president of customer service, said Jensen could send an account of her story and the railroad would consider some type of rebate or reimbursement.
Jensen was among more than a dozen commuters, state legislators and others who attended the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council's Winter Crisis Commuter Summit to express frustration with Metro-North's reduced New Haven Line schedule, instituted two weeks ago because of broken-down electric rail cars.
After commuters vented, the council pressed Metro-North and the state Department of Transportation to provide greater detail on the status of testing for the state's new M-8 rail cars, and how soon the first set of them, which are overdue, will go into service.
Tim McCarthy, senior vice president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's capital program, said he expects the railroad is close to getting the first eight M-8 cars into the final stage of 4,000 miles of simulated passenger runs and into service soon, and that 80 to 100 M-8s will be carrying passengers by the year's end.
A knotty problem with electromagnetic interference generated by the new cars' propulsion systems, discovered in November, has been resolved, McCarthy said.
"We are oh-so close, but remember that when we are doing the testing, if something major goes wrong, we have to stop and start over," McCarthy said. "We think we're past that."
DOT Commissioner Jeffrey Parker cautioned that delivery of the first cars could be slower than McCarthy predicted.
"We expect to get many more cars delivered more quickly later in the contract," Parker said.
So far, Connecticut had received 26 M-8s at its New Haven Railyard and is awaiting another 12 to be delivered from Kawasaki Rail Car's Japanese production plant before manufacture of the remainder of the 262-car order is built in Lincoln, Neb., McCarthy said.
Michael Young, of Stamford, said this winter's service disruptions, overcrowding, and uncertainty about the M-8s delivery has demoralized riders.
"I feel bad for the young people traveling on the line needing to get to work," Young said. "This is not only inconvenient, it is bad for our economy."
Lawrence Kleinman, a long-time commuter on the New Haven Line, asked when the railroad would have enough trains to avoid another winter of service difficulties.
"When will we have a reliable service?" Kleinman asked.
Parker said the prospective late 2010 debut date for the M-8s had been aggressive, which led to Cameron asking why the date had been touted in the first place.
"If a longer process is typical, why did you say late 2010?" Cameron asked.
Brian Mitchell, of Stamford, asked Parker and McCarthy questions about which problems on the M-8s have been caused by computer software and which by equipment on the trains.
"I think you'll find out that a lot of the guys I work with on Wall Street are mathematicians and engineers and do understand this," Mitchell said.
Parker said it has been difficult to communicate the full complexity of the M-8 testing program because of the complexity of electronics and mechanics on the sophisticated cars.
"The hardest thing has been getting our message out," Parker said. "We want to deliver the message in a way that people understand."
Cameron said many New Haven Line riders were smart enough to absorb a more complex explanation about problems with the cars.
"Mr. Parker, that is insulting and belittling to New Haven Line riders that you think you have to dumb it down," Cameron said.