Cuts To New Haven Line Begin Tomorrow

It is no secret that our region has faced a terrible winter. There have been plenty of victims whether it be injuries from fallen or the roads filled with potholes from all the snow & salt. The rails were not excluded from the damage, especially on the Metro-North’s New Haven line which features severely outdated cars.

The fleet used on the line has taken a pounding this winter & with the majority of them being over 40 years old, they could just not hold up. Due to this, the Metro-North has been forced to cut service to the line indefinitely. Here are the details courtesy of a press release the agency sent to me on Friday:

Starting on Monday, February 7, Metro-North will introduce a Reduced Winter Schedule affecting New Haven Line rush-hour, peak-direction trains. This schedule reduces service by approximately 10% during peak hours. In nearly all cases, customers will be able to board a train within five minutes of their normal departure time, although in some cases trains will make more stops than normal. During this time, weekday off-peak service will not be affected.

On weekends, a Sunday schedule will be in effect for both days. Beginning this Saturday, February 5, busing will be in effect on the Waterbury Branch until further notice with bus service following the train schedule.

These schedule changes, expected to last through March 4, are required because the railroad has had a severe and ongoing shortage of cars available for use on the New Haven Line. The problems with the fleet result from the age of the cars — almost 70 percent of the electric fleet is over 40 years old — and the impact of the unprecedented winter weather on them.

The printed version of the timetables are available at Grand Central Terminal. The new schedules are available online at Metro-North’s schedule page at, either in PDF format showing the entire line or through the point-to-point interactive schedules. Metro-North Train Time will reflect the new schedules.

Significant car shortages due to record-breaking amounts of snow and extreme cold have forced Metro-North to operate trains with fewer cars than normal, and to cancel trains, causing severe crowding and train delays. The new schedule will increase the dependability of the trains that are running.

“The service we have been providing has been far less than what our customers have come to expect from us and we strive to provide for them,” said Metro-North President Howard Permut. “It is time for us to take these additional steps to improve our service reliability and minimize further inconvenience.”

On a daily basis, there are close to 150 electric cars out of service on the New Haven Line, or 40% of the fleet. Metro-North employees are working around-the-clock to get damaged equipment back into service. However, with each new weather event, more weather-damaged cars arrive in the shops in need of repair. The cars, which pre-date the creation of Metro-North by about a decade, were designed in a manner that made key components extremely vulnerable to snow. These components include:

• Traction motors, which must be repaired or replaced – a job that routinely takes six or more hours to complete.

• Brakes, which freeze and get stuck from the extreme cold.

• Doors, which won’t close properly because the snow and ice that gets inside the door pockets prevents them from opening or closing on command.

Further complicating repair efforts is the fact that shop space is limited. Metro-North employees do not let this limitation stop them, working outside the shops, crawling under cars in the snow and extreme cold to repair components. The work is demanding, and progress is slow and hard won. Every day, repaired equipment goes back into service, and every day, more weather damaged cars arrive in need of repair.

The arrival of the new M8 rail cars will improve this situation in the future. Metro-North is testing the new M8 pilot cars; however this is a highly complex car with much computer technology. As we identify problems in testing — mostly related to complex software — we effect a fix and need to retest, and the testing has been delayed by the snowstorms. Metro-North is disappointed with the progress in getting these cars into revenue service, but the process cannot be rushed. We will put the cars into revenue service when we are confident that they operate both safely and reliably, and Metro-North remains hopeful that this will occur in the first quarter of 2011.

You can click here to read a letter written by Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut.

Jim Grady of WNYC takes a look at how these cuts were a debacle that was years in the making:

Riders on Metro-North’s New Haven Line will wake up Monday to find their rush hour service on already overcrowded trains cut by ten percent. Railroad officials are blaiming bad weather for a backlog of repairs that has left them with too few train cars to meet the demands of regular service. The explanation implies good service will be back up once the wintry conditions pass.

Don’t count on it.

On any given day this winter, almost half of its cars have been laid up because of damage from snow, ice and cold. But the line’s repair sheds are so small that workers have been setting up in the elements to fix trains broken by…the elements. On top of those problems, 300 new cars, called M-8s, are indefinitely stuck in the testing phase.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said testing will only resume on the M-8s once the cold and snow has passed. “We don’t want to sacrifice the new cars to the weather,” he said.

Even when winter abates, the backlog of repairs will have to be handled by repair shops that have been unable to supply enough working cars. For years, the line has routinely run trains with fewer cars than platforms can handle, leading to standing-room-only crushes during peak times.

Connecticut’s $866 million investment in the M-8 cars was supposed to have averted a crisis like this one. They were scheduled to be put into service in late 2009 but production problems meant they were only delivered at that time. The MTA, which runs Metro-North, began testing them with an eye toward having the M-8s carry commuters by late last year.

Unspecified technical glitches arose and that deadline was missed. Then came winter.

The roots of Monday’s cut in service stretch back even further. The MTA wanted to order new cars around 2000. By agreement, the authority pays 35% of the costs of operating the New Haven Line, from equipment purchases to operating expenses, while the state of Connecticut picks up the rest. But then-Governor John Rowland refused to make the investment.

“The new cars should have been ordered a decade ago, before the existing fleet broke down,” said Jim Cameron of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council. “The reason that didn’t happen is Governor Rowland didn’t want to spend the money.”

Connecticut riders will have a chance to confront their local lawmakers and railroad officials on February 16 at a meeting that the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council is calling “Winter Crisis: Commuter Summit.” It will be held at 7 p.m. at the Stamford Government Center.

Click here for the complete report.

This is a glaring example of why investing in our transportation infrastructure is arguably the most important thing our elected officials on all levels should be doing. The New Haven line’s ridership is extremely high & commuters standing from Connecticut to New York & vice versa are the norm when fleet is near normal levels. Imagine how it will be now with fewer cars available & cuts to service.

Connecticut voters should hold their Governor’s feet to the fire as poor decision making has led to this completely unacceptable debacle. In an age where ridership has been increasing, the last thing that should have been done was a no show in terms of infrastructure investments.

I strongly urge any of my readers who rely on Metro-North’s New Haven line to attend the summit & let their elected officials know that if they don’t step up & do right by all of you, that they will be shown the door when reelection time occurs.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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