As politicians demand action, Metro-North apologizes for service suspension

Saying it’s customers “deserve better,” Metro-North apologizes for the Thursday night train service suspension as local politicians demand action.

Metro-North is laying the blame for the service disruption that left trains with passengers stranded on the tracks and stations packed with people trying to get home on human error. The suspension not only impacted the New Haven line but the Hudson and Harlem lines as well. On Friday afternoon, Metro-North issued a statement that said the issue has 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 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.”

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, 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.”

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 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 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.

That did little to assuage 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, Gov. Dannel Malloy said he was outraged and had spoken to Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) CEO Tom Prendergast and demanded an action plan to keep this from happening again. Mr. Malloy said he wanted a face-to-face meeting with both Mr. 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,” Mr. Malloy said.

“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.”

Mr. Malloy also requested the MTA hire a third-party, independent authority who can serve as an adviser when crucial maintenance decisions like these are made.

State Senator Toni Boucher of Wilton (R-26) has been calling for an oversight board to monitor Metro-North’s procedures to address problems. When asked about the governor’s comments she said in an email to The Bulletin, “I do see him moving closer to my suggested oversight as it is clear that poor management and lack of internal controls and oversight had resulted in dangerous and costly human errors that puts our commuters’ safety and economy at risk. I had one resident tell me they are considering moving into Manhattan because of the train problems.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th), a Cos Cob resident, spoke with upset passengers via Twitter on Thursday night and said he would look for answers to how this can keep from happening again.

“Metro-North’s string of accidents and delays is simply unacceptable,” Mr. 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.”

Mr. 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.

“This is no way to run a railroad,” Mr. Himes said. “Individuals lose valuable time, we as a society lose productivity and businesses lose money when the trains don’t run on time.”

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) likened watching Metro-North’s service to “those horror movies where the world gradually falls apart.”

She said customers “have clearly lost any expectation that Metro-North will perform its fundamental role of delivering them to their destinations, and that they will arrive even roughly on time.”

Saying the reasons for the failures no longer matter, Metro-North must, at the least, improve communication with commuters and address service problems immediately.

When the General Assembly convenes next month she would like to see it “require the immediate submission of an infrastructure repair and upgrade plan, and then make its funding a priority over all other transit projects.”

“Commuters,” she said, “have had enough. They can’t take any more, and they shouldn’t have to.”