Archive for Metro-North

Metro-North will restore service to the Hudson Line tomorrow morning, just three days after Sunday’s derailment, and the agency plans to run 98 percent of its normal daily service, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release. Crews have been rebuilding 800 feet of track near Spuyten Duyvil, but full service will not be restored for a few days as the outer track was completely destroyed by the derailment.

According to the MTA, trains will single track through the area as rebuilding continues. In addition to the destruction of the outer track, the middle track sustained serious damage as well. As such, six morning trains will be reduced to three, but the Hudson Line will run the rest of its 172-train schedule. Riders are warned to expect delays of 10-15 minutes, a far cry from the hour-long diversions many had been experiencing this week.

“Thanks to an extraordinary effort and around the clock work, over 98% of service will be restored for Hudson Line commuters in time for tomorrow morning’s rush hour,” Governor Cuomo said. “As the NTSB continues its investigation of the derailment on Sunday morning, the MTA is fully cooperating to ensure we find out exactly what caused this horrific incident that took the lives of four individuals and injured many others. The families of those we lost and those still recovering continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.”

The National Transportation Safety Board, meanwhile, continued its investigation today. The Board announced that it did not appear as though faulty brakes were the culprit as the brakes showed no degradation or anomalies at previous stops. Additionally, alcohol testing on the engineer and other on-board employees came back clean while drug test results are still pending. The engineer’s work schedule showed no indication that he had been overworked or otherwise off calendar, and interviews with on-board personnel are ongoing.

Categories : Metro-North
Comments (1)

As more news breaks concerning Sunday’s fatal Metro-North derailment, it’s looking more and more likely that human error, rather than a train malfunction, was to blame. According to multiple reports this morning, William Rockefeller, the train’s engineer, either “zoned out” or momentarily lost consciousness as his train sped into a sharp curve at over 80 miles per hour. This development contradicts earlier reports from Sunday that the brakes failed.

The Post led with their story on the front page this morning, and it has since been picked up by DNA Info, The Daily News, and The Wall Street Journal. One source told the News that Rockefeller had no memory of the crash while another compared the engineer’s state of mind to a day dream.

“I think anybody who’s ever driven a car and sort of gotten to that place where you’re not really conscious, and then you snap yourself out of it, that’s in effect what happened,” The Journal’s source said. “That is exactly how Billy described it.”

The various reports diverge a bit in the details. The Post says Rockefeller “zoned out” and was awoken by a warning whistle that the train was going too fast. DNA Info says that the “rumbling of the train roaring through the head of the curve awakened Rockefeller.” Either way, the pendulum is swinging toward some form of inattentiveness by the engineer and human error.

We won’t know the official ruling until the National Transportation Safety Board issues its findings, and Rockefeller has unsurprisingly lawyered up. But questions are already swirling surrounding the role technology could have played in preventing this incident. A positive train control system, in the planning and funding stages, could have automatically slowed down the train in Rockefeller’s moment of distraction. Ted Mann summarizes:

Rail safety experts said that advanced train control systems would likely have prevented the accident if the derailment was a result of speeding. Systems to automatically slow or stop trains before collisions or derailments can occur are in various stages of development on commuter rail networks across the country, thanks to a federal law that requires they be installed by 2015. But many railroads, including Metro-North, say they can’t meet that deadline, citing technical complexity of the systems, lack of radio spectrum, and other pressing needs for scarce funding.

I’ll have more on railroad safety lately. For now, the latest reports indicate that PTC may not be ready until 2019, but area politicians are starting to make some noises that they aren’t happy. Needless to say, the pressure will now be on the MTA to bring some positive train control system to its railroads sooner rather than later

Categories : Metro-North
Comments (48)

Following the NTSB reports of an 82-mph speed just prior to derailment and a video of the crash’s aftermath, the MTA has released its own B-Roll of the recovery efforts. The agency had to re-rail the cars and move them out. Now, crews have to repair 800 feet of damaged rail before running test trains and restoring service.

In the meantime, bus service between Yonkers and the 1 line will continue on Tuesday. Metro-North service will operate between Poughkeepsie and Yonkers with shuttle buses to the Van Cortlandt Park-242nd St. station. Hudson Line tickets will again be cross-honored on the Harlem and New Haven Lines, and NJ Transit will take Harlem Line takes on the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines. There is still no word yet when full service will be restored.

Meanwhile, in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the last FASTRACK of the year hits the F line. Trains will be running on the A between West 4th and Jay St. with shuttle buses providing service between Jay and York Sts. in Brooklyn and between East Broadway and Broadway/Lafayette. This is the first FASTRACK along this stretch of the tunnels, and it’s the last FASTRACK of the year. We don’t yet know what next year’s treatments will be, but I assume this program will continue.

The Metro-North train that derailed yesterday morning was traveling at speeds of 82 miles per hour as it entered the Spuyten Duyvil curve, the National Transportation Safety Board just announced. Speed limits on the curve are just 30 miles per hour, and the speed limit on the straightaway north of the curve is 70. The NTSB noted that they do not yet know if human error or mechanical malfunction caused the deadly incident.

The NTSB noted that six seconds prior to the train coming to a stop, the throttle went to idle, and one second later, break pressure dropped to zero. “We do not yet know the initiating event for the throttle going to idle or the brake pressure dropping to 0 psi,” the agency said in a statement.

As of now, the NTSB has noted that there were no prior problems with the brakes, and the safety investigators will continue interviews with the engineer and three other crew members. The rail cars and locomotive have been removed to a secure location for further study, and the tracks have been turned back over to Metro-North. Yet, extensive service changes remain in place for the afternoon commute and morning rush. I’ll have more as this story develops.

Categories : Metro-North
Comments (14)

An aerial image shows the extent of Sunday’s eight-car derailment. (Photo via @NTSB)

As news about Sunday’s tragic Metro-North derailment spread throughout the day, I couldn’t help but think how worse it could have been. That’s small consolation to the families of Donna L. Smith, James G. Lovell, James M. Ferrari, and Ahn Kisook. They were the first four passenger fatalities in Metro-North history. For them, December 1 will be a day that long haunts them.

But for everyone else who could have been on an early morning train heading down the Hudson Line to Grand Central, the derailment was a hair’s breadth away from being much, much worse. Because it was early on a Sunday morning, only around 120 people were on board, a much smaller crowd than during a Monday. Furthermore, when the train jumped the tracks, the lead car stopped just short of the Harlem River. A few more feet would have sent that car plunging into the frigid, rough waters of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

Otherwise, for those people whose lives were taken earlier today, nothing about Sunday was lucky. For many, the accident will create the perception of a safety problem with rail travel, and for those on board, the event will be a life-defining day. Two New York Times reporters spoke with survivors, and the tales they tell are horrific. Trees tore through windows as the cars came to rest in marshy bogs near a rivera. Riders were trapped as rescue workers had to stabilize train cars and prevent further injuries. It was a nightmare.

Furthermore, a statement released by the Metro-North Railroad Commuters Council drives home the perception problems. Noting the three earlier incidents, the rider advocates called for a full accounting of Sunday’s accident. “The riders whom we represent must be assured they are safe when they travel on a Metro-North train, but their confidence in the Railroad has been shaken. Metro-North management must act decisively to ensure that incidents like those that the failures that have occurred this year do not occur again,” MNRCC Chair Randolph Glucksman said.

So what happened? Right now, National Transportation Safety Board inspectors have the train’s black box and are studying records, but from reports from the crash, a problem with the brakes seems the most likely explanation. A train that could have been going as high as 70 on a straight-away hit a steep curve prior to the Spuyten Duyvil station, and the brakes failed. Earlier in the day on Sunday, various reports suggested that the brakes failed, but evening stories hedged. The Times explains:

It was not clear how fast the Metro-North train was going. But an official from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the train operator had reported that the train was going into the turn too fast and that he had performed an emergency braking maneuver. The operator told the first rescuers to reach the scene that he had “dumped” the brakes, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Railroad experts said that dumping the brakes is a last-resort move that has the effect of slamming on the emergency brakes on all the cars of a train at once. It is usually done to avert a collision with another train or a car at a grade-level crossing.

Officials opened an investigation but cautioned that it would take time to piece together the evidence and pinpoint a possible cause. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the site with instructions to inspect the overturned cars and interpret information from the train’s “event recorders,” devices that are somewhat similar to the flight recorders on airplanes. The Federal Railroad Administration also dispatched a team of investigators.

Earl F. Weener of the transportation safety board said at a news conference with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that investigators had yet to interview the operator of the train, who was among those injured. A spokeswoman for Metro-North said the engineer, identified as William Rockefeller, had about 14 years’ experience with the line. There were also three conductors on the train. “Our mission is to not just understand what happened but why it happened, with the intent of preventing it from happening again,” Mr. Weener said.

For Metro-North, this is another in a line of bad incidents this year. A derailment and a collision in Connecticut led to days of delays, and early draft of The Times report pointed a finger at brain drain. “The recent episodes have occurred at a particularly trying time for the railroad,” a draft of the story, since revised, said. “The agency, brought under the auspices of the transportation authority in 1983, has endured a spate of departures that have left several positions either vacant or filled by less experienced employees. Retirements of high-level employees have been common, officials said, because retirees can receive maximum pension payments after 30 years of service.”

We’ll know more in the coming days and weeks, but for now, the immediate concerns are logistics. Monday marks the first full day of work since prior to Thanksgiving, and the Hudson Line is out of commission for a few days. The MTA has received the go-ahead from the NTSB to clean up and repair, but service for Monday morning will be severely impacted.

Starting at 5 a.m. on Monday, the MTA will provide train service to Yonkers and a shuttle bus to the 242nd St. 1 train station. Transit will operate two additional peak-hour 1 trains, but those locals will be slow and crowded into Manhattan. Hudson Line tickets will be cross-honored on the subway, on Harlem Line trains and a the Port Jervis station. For 26,000 people, the ride into New York will be tough. For four people, that ride will never happen again, and the answers will soon be forthcoming.

Categories : Metro-North
Comments (26)

A Metro-North derailment north of Spuyten Duyvil has led to four fatalities so far. (Photo courtesy of Ray Martin)

Four passengers have died and over 60 others are injured this morning after a Grand Central-bound Hudson Line Metro-North train derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx. The train had left Poughkeepsie at 5:54 and was not scheduled to stop at Spuyten Duyvil. Yet, approximately 100 yards north of the station, five of the seven cars jumped the tracks. The lead car stopped just short of the Harlem River, and other cars were on their sides.

The MTA does not know what caused the derailment, and the agency will conduct “a detailed investigation,” according to a spokesman. According to NBC New York, the curve north of the Spuyten Duyvil station is a “slow-speed area,” but one eyewitness who rides that route regularly told NBC’s Michael Gargiulo that the train was moving fast. MTA officials said they will consult the train’s black box for speed records as part of the investigation.

For now, all Metro-North service on the Hudson Line is suspended between Tarrytown and Grand Central, and Amtrak’s Empire Line Service between New York City and Albany has been suspended as well. Metro-North will be providing shuttle bus service between White Plains and Tarrytown beginning at 11 a.m., and the Harlem Line will cross-honor Hudson Line tickets. There is no current timetable for service restoration.

I’ll have more as this story develops. It has not been a good year for Metro-North as this is the second passenger train derailment in six months. The previous incident was not a fatal one.

Categories : Metro-North
Comments (29)

So sayeth the MTA:

“Full service to the MTA Metro-North Railroad New Haven Line will be restored Monday morning, assuming the new substation which received Con Edison power today is found reliable during our testing over the weekend.”

Meanwhile, Metro-North released additional information concerning the credit process today. Although the amounts have not yet been determined, New Haven Line riders will weekly or monthly passes that were valid during the outage can begin to apply for credit beginning October 9 or October 20, respectively. Customers may apply for this credit until March 31, 2014, and the agency will waive the customary $10 processing fee. The credit will be available at select New Haven Line stations and in Grand Central. Mail & Ride customers will receive the credit automatically.

Categories : Metro-North
Comments (2)

The MTA Board voted this afternoon to approve some form of ticket credit for riders of Metro-North’s New Haven Line who hold weekly or monthly tickets valid during the current power outage. The railroad has not yet determined how the credit will be structured or when it will be available, but the agency plans to release further information later this week. All in all, the credit is expected to cost the MTA approximately $2 million per week in lost revenue, and it is likely that the agency will seek to recoup costs from Con Edison.

“Because of the unprecedented magnitude and duration of this disruption, the MTA Board has concluded that a credit for our customers is simply the right thing to do,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. “I want to thank my fellow board members for taking swift action to address this situation while we work to support Con Edison in restoring full power to the line.”

Metro-North, meanwhile, is adding five more peak-hour trains tomorrow, bringing service back to about 65 percent of normal. In my view, that means any credit for tomorrow should top out at 35 percent of the pro-rated value of a ticket. During a press conference this afternoon, MTA officials cautioned that the refund should not set a precedent for future service disruptions, and some board members rightly argued that Metrocard holders should have received a similar credit for Sandy-related outages last year. In the poll I conducted earlier today, those voting for some form of refund eked out a 51-49 win over those voting against any refund.

Meanwhile, for those wondering what to do with their newfound riches sure to total ones or perhaps tens of dollars, why not check out the new Shake Shack in Grand Central Terminal which is opening on Saturday? The burger joint replaces Zocalo and will be forking over rent of around half a million per year for the next ten years with the MTA owed 8 percent of gross sales over a certain threshold amount.

Categories : Asides, Metro-North
Comments (4)

Later this afternoon, the MTA Board will host an emergency meeting to consider the question of refunds for New Haven Line Metro-North riders. The move comes after Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy called upon the MTA to expedite a refund process for riders facing slower and less frequent service as Con Ed continues to repair the damaged feeder cable. With repairs unlikely to wrap before next week, regular riders will have suffered through nearly two weeks of delays.

“Approving a refund to commuters isn’t just the right thing to do,” Mallooy said in a statement yesterday, “it’s what they need to do. It’s incumbent on the MTA and ConEd to deal with this problem and get it fixed, and it’s critical that Connecticut residents get reimbursed as quickly as possible.”

So here’s my question: Is it the right thing to do? Is it that important? I keep thinking back to similar calls in the aftermath of Sandy when subway service was not just slightly worse but shut down completely for days. Metrocard users received no such refund or time extension. Why is Metro-North any different?

On the one hand, it’s far easier to process Metro-North refunds. Cards run for full calendar months or weeks, and the MTA can easily add more time. Plus, this was not an act of nature; in fact, it sounds as though Con Ed will carry the blame for the incident. The MTA should get reimbursed for any unplanned expenses incurred during the outage, making a refund as easy as spending someone else’s money.

That said, New Haven Line service hasn’t been non-existent in the intervening week and a half. Trains have run; the Harlem Line has cross-honored fares. The MTA is doing what it can to ease travel woes, and if Metrocard users couldn’t get refunds during Sandy when insurance would have covered some of the costs, why should suburban riders now?

We’ll know more at around 4 p.m. when MTA officials address the media, but I’m curious to see the results of this poll.

Should New Haven Line passholders receive a refund?
View Results
Categories : Metro-North
Comments (14)

I’ve been in Houston all weekend watching Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte close out their spectacular careers while the painful 2013 Yankee season drew to a merciful close, and I only now just realized that the service advisories never went up on Friday evening. My apologies for the oversight. I could try to make it up to you by bringing home by bringing home one of the eight billion parking lots that mars the face of Downtown Houston and has otherwise made it a ghost time after offices close up shop for the weekend, but I’m not sure I could fit them in my suitcase.

Anyway, joking aside, I have a variety of updates for those Metro-North New Haven Line riders itching to get back to a normal routine. Service is still not yet back to normal, but the MTA hopes to offer service for approximately half of its regular weekday customers. Still, the agency is urging those who can to travel outside of the rush hour and utilize some park-and-ride spaces in Westchester County and the Bronx, if possible. Considering how Joe Lhota has been pushing park-and-ride as a major piece of his transportation platform, we may see this week just how it all works out.

“Con Edison’s temporary substation allows us to run very limited electric trains through this critical section of the New Haven Line for the first time since power was disrupted last week, but it’s still far less than the normal service our customers expect,” MTA Chair and CEO Tom Prendergast said. “While Con Edison works to restore full power to their damaged feeder cables, the MTA is doing everything it can to accommodate New Haven Line customers on other services.”

The full schedule and all of the details are available in the trip finder on the MTA’s website. The current plan will remain in effect up to and including October 7, when Con Ed estimates it will finish repairs on the feeder cable its own crews knocked out of service last week. The MTa explained that the reduced schedule is a result of the temporary repairs made along an eight-mile section of track between Harrison and Mount Vernon. The limited power supply means that only two electric trains can operate at one time and only under very limited loads. These trains will run express along that stretch of rail as accelerating draws the most power. Diesel trains will provide additional service.

Furthermore, nearly 8600 parking spaces at Orchard Beach, near Yankee Stadium, near Rye Playland and at the Kensico Dam in Valhalla will allow riders to stash their cars and hop on a shuttle bus. It’s not ideal, but it’s a start.

Meanwhile, the MTA is considering refunds for New Haven Line customers (though I question if Con Ed should be the ones fiscally responsible). Prendergast says he will make a “strong recommendation” to the MTA Board to allow for refunds or credits for those with monthly or weekly tickets. In the past, the agency has eschewed refunds, and recently, for instances, Metrocard holders were unable to draw a refund or see added time added to their cards in the aftermath of the extensive Sandy shutdowns last year. But under pressure from Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, agency officials have reconsidered their stance. We’ll see where this goes.

Comments (14)