Himes on Metro-North service suspension: ‘This is no way to run a railroad’

Saying its customers “deserve better,” Metro-North is apologizing for the Thursday night train service suspension as local politicians demand action.

But U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat, said the problem had an impact on the economy. “This is no way to run a railroad,” he said.

“Individuals lose valuable time, we as a society lose productivity and businesses lose money when the trains don't run on time,” said Himes, who represents most of Fairfield County, including much of Shelton.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed frustration at the timing of the work that caused the problem.

“On behalf of the thousands of Connecticut citizens who rely on this crucial rail service every day, I am outraged that any maintenance procedure would be performed on the signal control system during the peak evening commuter period,” Malloy said.

Metro-North blames human error

Metro-North is laying the blame for the service disruption, which left trains with passengers stranded on the tracks and stations packed with people trying to get home, on human error. The suspension not only affected the New Haven line on Metro-North but the Hudson and Harlem lines as well.

On Friday afternoon, Metro North issued a statement saying the problem had been traced to an error during an electrical repair project as the computers used to run the railroad’s signal system lost “reliable power” at 7:45 p.m. Thursday night when one of the two main power supply units was taken out of service for replacement.

The blame for this is being placed on the workers who did that replacement.

“Technicians performing the work did not realize that a wire was disconnected on the other main power supply unit,” Metro-North said in the statement. “This destabilized the power supply system for more than an hour until a backup supply could be connected.”

Should have been performed at off-peak time

In the statement, Metro-North said, “This project should have been analyzed for risks and redundancy before it began, and it should have been performed in the middle of the night over a weekend, not when thousands of customers were trying to get home in cold weather.

“While this specific incident has been addressed and an internal review is underway,” the Metro-North statement continued, “we are also bringing in an independent consultant to examine how and why these mistakes were made, and to recommend any necessary changes to operating procedures and practices. Metro-North customers deserve better. We sincerely regret this incident and apologize for the inconvenience our customers experienced.”

Safety considerations

According to Metro-North, the suspension of the 50 trains on all three lines was done because it was considered the “safest course of action.”

Per Metro-North instructions, trains were to be brought into the nearest station on a train-by-train basis to ensure safety and trains then were not allowed to proceed through any switches until signal maintainers could respond and manually ensure the switches were lined up correctly.

Metro-North said that the repairs were complete by 9 p.m. but computers needed to reboot before trains could run again. That happened by 9:30 and “full control over the signal system” was re-established by 10:30, though there were significant delays for trains for the rest of the night.

Malloy: ‘Avoidable’ and ‘unfathomable’

That did little to calm furious passengers who were left stranded for hours and is just the latest of a recent run of problems for Metro North.

Customer complaints were heard throughout the night and politicians have been demanding action from Metro-North.

On Friday, Malloy said he was outraged and had spoken to Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO Tom Prendergast and demanded a plan to keep this from happening again. Malloy said he wanted a face-to-face meeting with both Prendergast and Joe Giullietti, the new president of Metro-North, as soon as possible.

“The power outage on the New Haven Line [Thursday] evening was totally avoidable and frankly unfathomable given that it occurred due to inappropriate actions on the part of Metro-North,” Malloy said.

‘Reassess priorities and operations’

Himes communicated with upset passengers via Twitter on Thursday night and said he would look for answers on how to keep from happening again.

“Metro-North's string of accidents and delays is simply unacceptable,” Himes said in a Friday statement. “From the recent dangerous crashes and derailments to [Thursday’s] infuriating delays and especially the lack of information given to passengers stranded on trains between stations for hours, Metro-North needs to reassess its priorities and operations.”

Himes added that the electrical problems were a “clear demonstration of the cost of not investing in our transportation infrastructure” but that the issues went beyond that, given the impact this had on people trying to take the trains.

Ken Borsuk is editor of the Greenwich Post, another Hersam Acorn Newspaper publication.