Archive for Metro-North
As New York City Transit’s underground stations are on the verge of getting nosier with cell service to debut next week, Metro-North may be getting quiet. The commuter railroad announced today a Quiet Car pilot for the Hudson and Harlem Lines and an extension of a similar pilot along the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines.
The details are simple: Starting October 17, on certain peak trains, the last (AM) and first (PM) cars will be set aside for commuters who would like to avoid ringing cell phones, loud conversations and other gadgetry sound effects. These trains will carry a Q with them on the timetable. The program, says Metro-North, will be voluntary with customers self-monitoring. Conductors, though, will issue so-called “shh” cars to non-compliant riders. That’s sure to go over well with petulant cell-phone users. Those who wish to converse in the Quiet Cars must use subdued voices.
Along the West-of-Hudson routes, a similar pilot has been wildly successful. According to a July study, 82 percent of riders were satisfied with the Quiet Car program with nearly 20 percent moving to the Quiet Car and only four percent sitting elsewhere. After a few months, Metro-North will evaluate the East-of-Hudson pilot before deciding whether or not to expand it. “We are pleased that Metro-North’s West of Hudson quiet car program has proved popular with riders and support Metro-North extending this initiative to East of Hudson lines, as our Council has urged in the past,” David Buchwald, chair of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council. “We believe that giving riders a choice in their commuting environment will make for a more pleasant traveling experience.”
For a long time, bicyclists and Metro-North trains have co-existed rather uneasily. The MTA charges a $5 permit for those who wish to bring their bikes on board, but the limitations are extensive. Bikes are, of course, not allowed at all in peak directions during peak hours, and the railroad limits the total number of bicycles per train to four during the week and just eight during the weekend. For cyclists who want to take advantage of the numerous trails around the New York area, these rules make riding the rails onerous and sometimes impractical.
On and off, we’ve heard of efforts by the MTA to improve the way bikes are stored on Metro-North trains. The authority originally announced a prototype test on the M-7s back in 2009 but had to cancel amidst cost concerns last year. Now, the prototype is back on track.
Last Friday, Metro-North held a demonstration of a potential bike solution for the M-8 trains. They tested two types of hooks as cyclists experimented with the hanging bike hooks. I’ve heard that test trains will run on the New Haven line between now and November 13, and NYCC has published the prototype schedule. Bikes can be just as intrusive as those travelers with giant luggage who often use Metro-North, and adding hooks as an accommodation should help make it easier for those on two wheels to get around.
It’s been over two weeks since Hurricane Irene stormed through the New York area, and the MTA is still in the process of assessing the future of the Port Jervis line. Even with the MTA’s so-called emergency powers activated in order to avoid a lengthy procurement process, the line will be out of service for a few months as engineers levy a cost estimate and then begin repairs. The storm has brought renewed attention to a little-used lifeline into the city, and many are wondering what should be done with it.
Earlier this week, Jim O’Grady at both WNYC and Transportation Nation examined the Port Jervis line. The two articles are basically identical copies of each other but with different headlines. One asks if the MTA should bother fixing it, and the other notes that the authority is going to “spend millions” repairing the line. Whatever the price tag, it’s going to be a lot of dough for 2300 riders per day.
O’Grady raises a point I briefly mentioned in my most recent examination of the Port Jervis line’s future: Based on the MTA’s initial estimates, the cost to repair the Port Jervis line will be far steeper than the money the agency saved when it cut 37 bus lines, and the Port Jervis ridership is “just a small portion of the thousands of riders who used to take” those buses. If only it were that simple.
By providing service into Orange County, the MTA can earn subsidies from those counties. While few riders travel along the Port Jervis line into New York, it is included in the payroll tax calculations. Relatively little money comes from the largely rural county, but the subsidies allow the MTA to operate this far-flung service at relatively little additional cost. Sinking millions to repair the line alters the equation.
Yet, for those 2300 who live in Orange County and commute to New York, many cannot afford to take the drive every day. “It’s the only means of transport for these people,” Gene Russianoff said to O’Grady as he debated the pros and cons of repairing the line.
Still, the MTA’s interim offerings haven’t been too popular. The authority is currently conducting a $500,000 study on the 14 miles of washed-out track, and by the end of September, they will know how much repairs will cost. In the meantime, they have unveiled extensive bus routing. MTA Bus has sent 40 vehicles to Orange County to provide service to nearby stations. “In the two weeks since flooding crippled 14 miles of the Port Jervis Line, Metro-North has worked to provide buses to transport the 2,300 people who depend on the railroad each weekday. They will be taken to nearby stations in New Jersey and across the Hudson River in a complex and evolving plan to provide alternative public transportation,” Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut said. “It is the most extensive and complex busing program ever implemented by the railroad.”
Unfortunately, though, only around 1250 people a day are using these buses, according to WNYC, and politicians are complaining anyway. “We have balked about paying the MTA tax, that percentage, for the last few years, and now, when we need them the most, they can’t provide any of my constituency with an appropriate service,” Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, who clearly doesn’t the impact understand weather-related disasters, said. “I think it’s outrageous. People are in tears. How can you do that? Even from Harriman down. There are people that are paying this tax, and now, all of a sudden, it’s not us getting the service again. It’s like we’re the orphan children.”
Ultimately, the MTA isn’t going to cut bait on the Port Jervis line, and it wasn’t discussed behind closed doors. FEMA dollars will likely cover some of the costs of repairs as well. But better planning, some higher speed options and a drive to encourage transit-oriented development along the lonely line could improve commutes for everyone while making the Port Jervis line more popular. Finding an opportunity in a hurricane could be a good move; giving up likely isn’t.
Metro-North’s Port Jervis line is in trouble. As the pictures have shown us this week, the west-of-the-Hudson commuter rail line was hit hard by Hurricane Irene. It’s currently out of service and will be for months, according to MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder. By all accounts, this is the worst weather-related transportation outage the region has suffered in decades.
Earlier this week, the MTA had to pull out its emergency powers to begin to ready the Port Jervis line for revenue service again. “The damage suffered by the Port Jervis Line can only be described as catastrophic,” Walder said during a tour of the destruction. “There are sections of track literally suspended in the air, and in many places we will have to build a new railroad from scratch, from the foundation to the tracks to the signals. I have directed Metro-North to take such steps as are necessary to expeditiously and fully address the catastrophic damage suffered along the Port Jervis Line as a result of Irene. Rebuilding this infrastructure is going to be a long and difficult process, but we are taking every action in our power to continue serving our customers, to reduce unnecessary delay and to communicate every step of the way.”
The worst of the damage is extensive. Near Sloatsburg, three sections of track totaling 1000 feet each are gone. A smaller section washed out to a depth of eight feet. Several bridges have sustained damage, and the signal system which is exposed and under water will have to be rebuilt. By using the emergency powers, the MTA can bypass lengthy procurement processes and can push through these badly needed repairs faster. “The Port Jervis Line is critical to the MTA’s West of Hudson customers, so it’s important that we use emergency powers to remove red tape and rebuild this infrastructure as quickly as possible,” MTA Board Member Susan Metzger said.
In The Times today, Christine Haughney writes about the trip to Orange and Rockland Counties, and the report from the devastation really brings it home. Walder, who said the time for repairs would be “measured in months,” seemed floored by the damage. “In nearly 30 years, I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said.
But beyond the emotional impact of the storm’s path, the MTA has to ask a lot of questions about the Port Jervis line’s future. It has been a long slow ride toward modernity for this 100-year-old rail branch, and while ridership is still low — barely 2300 per weekday and under 800 per weekend — it provides a vital lifeline to the city for a rapidly-growing part of New York State. For now, the authority will bus the commuters from Harriman to New Jersey Transit’s Ramsey/Route 17 station. In the coming months, the MTA will try to expand bus offerings.
Meanwhile, the economics of the situation are a cause for concern as well. As we know, the MTA has had to cut back its five-year capital plan, and for now, it will have to dip into cash reserves to fund this emergency repair work. The authority hopes that FEMA dollars will flow its way and that insurance proceeds can pick up some slack, but it also can’t afford to wait for the money to flow through the red tape. For now, the emergency powers will allow the MTA to get started on this project.
So now the MTA has an opportunity to recreate an old rail line or jettison something that many consider to be a drag on the MTA’s bottom line and a sprawl-promoting spur. They can improve the signals on the Port Jervis line. They can double-track some of the line. Or they could work quickly and do nothing much new but just work to get service running again. Taking the long view would pay off in the end, but transit authorities haven’t taken the long view too frequently these days. Now we’ll see what happens with the closest thing to a blank slate the region has.
After a quiet Monday morning spend digging out from this weekend’s storm, the MTA announced this evening that most of its Metro-North service will be restored for Tuesday morning. The agency says that 85 percent of its morning peak customers will have service tomorrow as the entire Hudson and New Haven Main Lines along with the Lower Harlem Line to North White Plains will enjoy a regular schedule. Service will remain suspended on the Upper Harlem and New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury branch lines as well as the Port Jervis Line west of the Hudson. It might be a few days for the remaining 15 percent of impacted Metro-North riders.
Meanwhile, across the river, New Jersey Transit said it would restore “most” service by Tuesday morning. As the Wall Street Journal summarized, the authority still expects “delays and cancellations,” but Northeast Corridor trains will run to and from New Brunswick. Trains will leave from New York once an hour and run into the city every 20 minutes. Montclair-Boonton line will go only as far as Little Falls while the Port Jervis line could remain shut for a while.
Metro-North service on parts of the Hudson and Harlem Lines will be restored today starting at 2 p.m., the MTA announced a few minutes ago. Service along the New Haven line and north of Croton-Harmon and North White Plains remains suspended due to water-damaged substations, downed transmission poles and fallen trees. Service west of the Hudson River has been suspended as well.
For now, the trains that are running will operate on a Sunday schedule and will charge off-peak fares. As far as the schedule goes, the MTA informs us that trains will depart Croton-Harmon for Grand Central at 2 p.m. (local) and 2:34 p.m. (limited-stop express) and from North White Plains at 2:01 p.m. (limited-stop express) and 2:08 p.m. (local). Northbound trains will leave for Croton-Harmon at 2:20 p.m. and North White Plains at 2:25 p.m. (local) and 2:48 p.m. (express) before resuming a Sunday slate.
As far as everything else is concerned, the MTA says, “Metro-North will continue to restore as much service as possible once it is safe to do so.” When that will be is anyone’s guess.
As the New York State legislature wrapped up its business in June, it passed a bill banning smoking on all MTA railroad platforms. For nearly two months, the bill sat on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, and yesterday, he signed it into law. Smoking, all prohibited on all New York City Transit areas, is now a no-no at all MTA-operated outdoor train ticketing, boarding or platform areas, including the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.
In a statement, Cuomo praised the public health benefits of the new measure. “It is important that commuters are not unwillingly subject to the dangers of second-hand smoke while waiting on train platforms,” the governor said. “Exposure to second-hand smoke can lead to serious health problems for non-smokers and this law will make outdoor MTA train platforms, ticketing and boarding areas a cleaner, healthier place for all commuters.”
Of course, signatures and proclamations are all well and good, but what about enforcement? Last night while waiting for a 1 train at Chambers St., I saw a woman in the subway puffing away at her cigarette with nary a cop or MTA worker in sight to do anything about it. Most of these commuter rail platforms are relatively empty for much of the day, and I’m not sure a bill that won’t be enforced too much will be a huge deterrent. Still, it’s a measure worth applauding for those who do not like to inhale other people’s smoke.
As part of its flurry of late-session legislation last week, the State Senate approved a measure that would ban smoking on all LIRR and Metro-North platforms. Sponsored by Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. from Merrick, the bill (S3461C) mimics a move made by both New York City and New Jersey within the past few years. It would ban smoking in outdoor spaces for ticketing, boarding or platforms of train stations operated by the MTA or its subsidiaries, and it has already cleared the state Assembly.
“Thousands of commuters are being exposed to harmful second-hand smoke every time someone lights up a cigarette while waiting for a train,” Senator Fuschillo, a leading anti-smoking representative, said. “Second-hand smoke exposure can lead to a number of different health problems, even among non-smokers. New York needs to expand its own anti-smoking laws to better protect people from second-hand smoke.”
The bill has garnered the support of the American Cancer Society and will now be presented to Gov. Cuomo for his signature. Enforcement, of course, remains another matter entirely.
As the MTA gears up to bring Wi-Fi service to its commuter rail trains, The Post reports today that one train car is already equipped with service, but the MTA isn’t saying which one. Annie Karni says the MTA is a running a “covert, three-month pilot program” during which one car on the New Haven Line will enjoy Wi-Fi service. The car, she reports, has “an outside antenna that receives a cellular signal from AT&T. Inside the car, a router converts cell service to Wi-Fi.”
For its part, the MTA is holding back on revealing which car it is yet because the service is, in the words of an agency spokesperson, “not ready for prime time.” All New Haven Line riders should now furiously check their laptops and smart phones for an open wireless network while heading back home.
In other Wi-Fi news, The Post says the MTA is “currently reviewing three proposals to carry Wi-Fi throughout the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road systems and to provide 32-inch digital screens in cars for advertising and real-time updates about schedules and delays.” According to this report, installing these screens could cost up to $38,000 per car, a figure which seems absurdly high. I know retrofitting older rolling stock with new technology carries significant costs, but considering the price of a digital screen, that one seems excessive to me.
Relief is coming to the New Haven Line.
Nearly a month to the day since Metro-North announced it would have to scale back service amidst a rough winter and a maintenance crunch, the MTA yesterday unveiled the first set of M8s to enter service. With the debut of the new rolling stock, the MTA also announced that full rush hour service would return to the New Haven Line beginning on Monday.
The new cars, though, long billed as the MTA’s commuter fleet’s next-generation rolling stock, received top billing yesterday. They deserved too after extensive delays in both funding and testing had them on blocks for months. “These cars have successfully completed extensive, systematic tests. The many challenges that were revealed during intensive, real-world operations of the most complex rail car in North America on the continent’s busiest rail corridor, have been resolved,” Metro-North President Howard Permut said. “This testing took over one year to ensure that the M-8 will provide quality service for its 30 year life. We plan to put more of these cars into service as soon as they complete individual quality assurance testing.”
The new cars, says the authority, make for a nice ride. In a press release, the agency described the upgrades:
Inside the cars, customers will notice are roomier, high-back, contoured seats with individual headrests, curved arm rests anchored at both ends in the upholstery. They will see larger windows and better lighting, especially in the vestibules for improved safety. Other features include LED displays that show the next stop and automated audio announcements. Each seat is outfitted with electrical outlets, grab bars, coat hooks and curvaceous luggage racks. The cars also are equipped with an intercom system that customers can use to contact the crew in emergencies.
Outside, customers will see prominent electronic destination signs and hear external public address speakers. Single leaf doors provide high reliability and less susceptibility to snow intrusion. The color scheme is a vibrant red, the historical color of the New Haven Railroad, predecessor to Metro-North…
In the M-8, critical, solid-state, computer-controlled electrical components are protected within the car body rather than exposed under the car so that inclement weather will not interfere with their operation.
Redundancies are built into the cars to ensure continued operation if a system malfunctions. For example, as in the M-7s, each car has two, modular air conditioning units so that if one fails, the other will continue to cool the car until the broken one can be removed and replaced with a spare. Older cars such as the M-2s have one AC unit that was integral to the car so that the entire car had to be taken out of service while repairs were made.
The cars, which cost $2.23 million each, were first ordered back in August of 2006 when the MTA and Kawasaki executed a 300-car, $761-million deal. Last month, the authority exercised two options — one for 42 more cars and another for 38 — that will bring the total to 380 cars. The authority expects to have 26 cars in service this spring with 80 total by the end of 2011. All 380 will be in service by the fall of 2013.
“I am thrilled to be able to introduce a new era of comfort and reliability for New Haven Line riders,” said Jeff Parker, Connecticut’s Transportation Commissioner. “Even a single eight-car train set will help alleviate crowding and bring hope to our beleaguered New Haven Line customers. These cars are the first of the new breed of technologically advanced trains that will serve us for decades to come.”
It’s been a long trip for the M-8s, and New Haven riders have borne the brunt of the delay. Now that these cars are in place and hitting the rails, though, Metro-North, the nation’s most popular commuter rail system, should enjoy smoother sailing in the years ahead.