Looking into the winter’s Metro-North meltdown

Commuting on Metro-North has never been fun. But remember the good ol’ days when “Train time was your own time?” This winter, train time is no time. Metro-North’s New Haven division is in full meltdown.

Within the past few weeks we have had two derailments, hundreds of late or canceled trains and one frightening incident (caught on video) of an open door on a moving train. Half of our fleet of cars was out of service, frozen solid. Trains have broken down, without power for hours, while passengers were given no information. And as I wrote last time, we are no closer to seeing the long-delayed new M8 cars in service.

Commuters aren’t angry, they’re livid. I can’t even reprint some of the e-mails I get on a daily basis as chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. The language would make a sailor blush. There have even been fistfights between some passengers.

Weekday trains have been run on a Sunday schedule. Danbury, Waterbury and even New Canaan branch lines have seen more busing than trains. On the mainline, trains arrived so crowded with standees that commuters couldn’t squeeze on even if they wanted to. E-mail alerts from Metro-North would say one thing, the platform PA’s another and you’d see a third version of reality via CleverCommute. Rumors abound but the facts are scarce.

Finally, Metro-North wisely decided it had to cut service semi-permanently, or at least until the spring thaw, and introduced the New Haven Line to a reduced schedule by 10% for winter. Branch line busing will be the rule from Bridgeport to Waterbury, with their diesels diverted to the mainline.

Some of this may help, at least until our oldest cars return to service. But the trains will be fewer and even shorter of cars than before. That probably means we’ll be standing-room-only in rush hour.

I am fearful of a revolt. This isn’t Egypt, but the anger is as strong. I’m hearing rumbling of commuter protests, like refusing to pay for their ride or staging sit-down strikes. Some are demanding a 10% fare rebate to match the reduction in service.

Metro-North deserves credit for its valiant efforts to keep rail service running during blizzards and ice storms. The railroad is not to blame for the weather or the obsolete, broken-down equipment bought for its use by the state, cars that should have been replaced a decade ago. But commuters need honest answers to their questions and concerns.


Jim Cameron is chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council and a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, but the opinions expressed here are his own. You can reach him at [email protected] or trainweb.org/ct.

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