What does Metro-North do right? Not much, it seems

Greenwich-Voices-DadakisThis has been the winter of our discontent. The record-breaking cold and snow, despite continued Democratic insistence about global warming, has made this a long, difficult winter.

However, for those who commute on Metro-North the discontent has been amplified with repeated service disruptions along with train cars in disrepair and reports of no heat during the polar vortex. But this is not mere annoyance, like being stuck in a traffic jam. This can have serious economic impact on the area.

Metro-North’s New Haven line is the lifeblood of Fairfield County’s economy, with 39 million trips last year. Many travel to Manhattan for work, bringing their earnings back to Fairfield County to spend on houses, recreation and, yes, taxes, taxes and more taxes. The ability to get easily into Manhattan is essential to the economic success of Fairfield County, and since Fairfield County pays way more than its fair share of taxes to Hartford, it’s critical to all Connecticut residents.

I commuted between Greenwich and Manhattan for 30 years before transferring to my firm’s Stamford office in 2007. I made the change because my company was moving its offices from midtown’s Park Avenue to the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. I actually enjoyed the train commute as it gave me time to read the paper and focus on the day’s work ahead.

By leaving Manhattan, I was trying to avoid the miserable subway and had always said I’d happily return to midtown and Metro-North. But not now.

I was shocked to read that the Federal Railroad Administration issued a report last week criticizing Metro-North for trading on-time performance for safety. What on-time performance? Those who live with the railroad every day know that performance has suffered and now we’re told safety, which is supposed to be task one, is also subpar.

What in the world has Metro-North been doing right? Anything?

Most people consider cars and planes the most dangerous modes of transportation, but people die on trains, too. There have been two fatal accidents in the past year on Metro-North and I personally experienced it when my 16-year-old cousin was killed in an Amtrak train crash outside Baltimore and when a good friend’s father was killed when the Auto Train crashed.

Safety should never be compromised, but a railroad needs an overall high service level or people won’t use it.

Metro-North claims pretty good on-time performance figures, but the truth is they cook the books. Among other things, if a train arrives within six minutes of its scheduled time it’s marked “on time” and Metro-North has lengthened that benchmark over the past few years to make themselves look better. Only in Metro-North world when a train is delayed more than 10% of its travel time does it rack up a perfect on time record.

Daily users of the service know how bad things are — they don’t need statistics.

Commuters need to be able to depend on the railroad to transport them in a timely fashion, in relative comfort (or at least not in discomfort) and at a reasonable cost. As it currently stands, fares on the New Haven line pay a greater proportion of operating costs than other USA rail services, yet service is dismal.

Metro-North needs to be fixed and fixed fast — both for safety and performance or else Fairfield County and Connecticut’s economy will be adversely affected and that means, among other things, lower real estate prices. It’s time for all the politicians to stop the excuses and the blame game and start the fixing.

 

Ed Dadakis is former chairman of the Republican Town Committee and has spent more than 30 years serving on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). He may be reached at [email protected]

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