September 2, 2014

Talking Transportation: Things Are Getting Better on Metro-North

Jim CameronI know it may be hard to believe, but I think things are getting better on Metro-North.

Last week I finally met Joseph Giulietti, the new President of Metro-North. I found him to be very smart, quite candid and equipped with a reasonable plan to bring this railroad back to its once-deserved world-class status.

On May 11th a new timetable will become effective, aimed at achieving two goals: safety and reliability. The timetable will mean running trains on-time but still allowing for track and catenary work to keep the railroad in a state of good repair.

At a Commuter Forum in Westport, Giulietti was the first to admit that the railroad was in bad shape, that trains are running slower and later, often with standees. But unlike GM’s Chairman explaining delays in safety recalls and blaming it on “the old GM”, Giulietti is taking ownership of the problems. That’s refreshing.

Yes, trains are not on time (just 76 percent in February), but that’s because after the last May’s Bridgeport derailment the FRA issued speed restrictions on bridges and curves. The current timetable is, as one commuter put it in our recent survey, “more of a suggestion” than anything else.

So for the past months the railroad has been analyzing the entire timetable, looking at the reasons for every late train and being open to revising everything. The new timetable will rationalize the current running times, adding 2-4 minutes for trains between New Haven and Stamford, but cutting two to four minutes for runs from Stamford to GCT.

That means that your 7:35 a.m. train to work, usually arriving this winter at 7:40 or 7:45, may be rescheduled to arrive at 7:40 and, probably, will. This means you can plan your life with reliability and not be wasting time on the platform peering down the track.

The problem of standees on trains will hopefully lessen when people return to a routine commuting cycle and extra railcars will be provided on trains where ridership shows the demand for more seats.

The good news is that with increased reliability, we may also see greater frequency of service … four trains an hour in the a.m. peak instead of three trains every half-hour off-peak. Yes, the run may take a bit longer, but you’ll have more options, always knowing the scheduled departure and arrival times will be achieved.

But is the railroad safe? Yes, insist both Giulietti and CDOT Commissioner Jim Redeker. But so too was airline safety / security after 9-11. And our bridges became safer after the collapse of the Mianus River Bridge 30 years ago. Even in the “land of steady habits,” we hopefully learn from our mistakes.

We’re now about half-way through Mr. Giulietti’s 100 day plan to get Metro-North back on track. I, for one, am hopeful he will achieve his goals. But on day 100, June 11th, I’ll be checking the scorecard and seeing what he’s achieved versus what was promised.

Jim Cameron


Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 22 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