Rail­road re­pairs a sig­nal for long sum­mer rides

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - Jim Cameron COM­MEN­TARY

Metro-North rail com­muters re­ceived a re­cent spring sur­prise: a new timetable with slower run­ning times.

Rush-hour trains now leave ear­lier and ar­rive later, ad­ding any­where from 1 to 10 min­utes to pub­lished run­ning times, de­pend­ing on the length of the trip.

But what hap­pened to that 30-30-30 plan for faster trains? Why are the trains run­ning slower, not faster? In one word: re­pairs.

There’s no way MetroNorth can main­tain its old sched­ule con­sid­er­ing the amount of track work planned for this sum­mer. In fact, the on-time per­for­mance stats from last sum­mer’s con­struc­tion hit a record low, some­times reach­ing just 82 per­cent. The new spring timetable more ac­cu­rately re­flects the speed of ser­vice the rail­road can ac­tu­ally deliver, not the ser­vice it would like to deliver.

So in­stead of trains run­ning late, they’ll be on time and the sched­ule will be more reli­able, if slower.

The timetable ad­just­ments have been in the works since the fall, though the rail­road clearly could have done a bet­ter job ex­plain­ing the whys and hows of the changes. Big projects like the At­lantic Street bridge re­place­ment in Stam­ford and the Walk Bridge project in Nor­walk are tak­ing one, and in some cases, two tracks out of ser­vice.

Nec­es­sary “un­der­cut­ting,” re­mov­ing years of accumulate­d rock bal­last un­der rail ties, can take out a track for weeks at a time. And all four run­ning tracks will even­tu­ally need that un­der­cut­ting work.

That leaves the rail­road try­ing to run a four-track ser­vice with a 25 per­cent to 50 per­cent re­duc­tion in re­sources. And that, as Metro-North’s com­puter sim­u­la­tions have shown, means slower ser­vice. This also as­sumes noth­ing else goes wrong.

If there’s an un­ex­pected

bro­ken rail, a sig­nal prob­lem or power is­sue, the rail­road will jump on re­pairs im­me­di­ately — caus­ing other de­lays in ad­di­tion to the planned work. In other words, it’s go­ing to be a long sum­mer, folks.

And this is just the be­gin­ning. One in­dus­try in­sider tells me th­ese megare­pair projects will con­tinue for about five years, mean­ing th­ese slower run­ning times will be the new

nor­mal.

The far­ther East you live on the New Haven line, the greater the im­pact of the slower trains. Take Bridge­port, for ex­am­ple.

The best cur­rent run­ning time from Bridge­port to Grand Cen­tral is 1 hour and 22 min­utes. Un­der the new timetable, it will be 1 hour and 29 min­utes. But in 1963, the old New Haven Rail­road could make the run in 1 hour and 14 min­utes.

Why? Be­cause the orig­i­nal New Haven Rail­road was well main­tained. The rail­road is now 56 years older and not ag­ing well. The sig­nal sys­tem is well past its life ex­pectancy (and can han­dle speeds no faster than 70 mph). The over­head power lines still date back to the times of Woodrow Wil­son in some ar­eas. And the tracks, as we know are prone to crack­ing and ex­pan­sion in the sum­mer heat.

Safety should al­ways be the top pri­or­ity. Re­mem­ber the Bridge­port de­rail­ment and Spuyten Duyvil crash?

So if your trains take a few more min­utes to get you to work, be grate­ful. At least you got there safely. I’d al­ways pre­fer to ar­rive alive, wouldn’t you?

Things will get bet­ter. Maybe not 30-30-30, but bet­ter…even­tu­ally. Jim Cameron is a long­time Con­necti­cut com­muter ad­vo­cate. Con­tact him at Com­muterAc­tion [email protected]

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

The Metro-North Rail­road Walk Bridge re­place­ment project in Nor­walk will cause train de­lays this sum­mer.

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