Metro-North doesn’t seem to envision bar cars in its future, reports the NY Times, which says it looks unlikely those bygone-era relics will fit into the long-awaited rollout of the M8 cars on the New Haven Line last this year.
Much as I enjoy and respect the Times, I have to say–reporter Michael Grynbaum includes every last cliche about commuting to the suburbs in his story. Reference to Don Draper and Mad Men? Check. Reference to John Cheever’s short fiction? Check, mate. Weepy homages to bar car bonhomie?
He squeezes them all into one sentence, in fact:
The bar car is a mainstay of the commuting life, a lurching lounge on wheels inseparable from the suburbia of Cheever and “Mad Men.” “The commute is so bad as it is,” explained Paul Hornung, a financial worker, as he sipped a Stella Artois. “This is the one thing you can look forward to.”
Here’s my issue. Is the bar car really, truly a “mainstay of the commuting life”? Grynbaum notes in his story that bar cars have long since been phased out on Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit. They’ve also been phased out on the Hudson and Harlem Lines….assuming those lines ever had those stankin’ basement-bars-on-wheels.
[By the way, what the heck is Paul “Golden Boy” Hornung doing drinking on the train? to Stamford]
I don’t know that I’ve ever consumed a potent potable on Metro-North, and I, ya know, follow the intersection of commuter trains and booze pretty carefully. While bar cars are surely meeting spots for friends old and new to enjoy a tipple, I’m guessing most New Haven Line riders would prefer to quaff their Bud tallboy in a normal seat in a normal car, instead of on these anachronistic oddities.
Metro-North officials say the decision to possibly eliminate the bar cars is all about–surprise surprise–money.
A new fleet of cars will soon replace the 1970s-era models now used by commuters on the Metro-North Railroad line heading to Connecticut. But with money tight, railroad officials said they could not yet commit themselves to a fresh set of bar cars, citing higher costs for the cars’ custom design.
“They’re being contemplated,” said Joseph F. Marie, Connecticut’s commissioner of transportation. “But we have not made any final decisions.”
Defenders of the boozy commute say it helps raise revenue: After expenses, bar cars and platform vendors made $1.5 million last year, up from $1.3 million in 2008. (Officials would not say if a bar car makes more money than a car with the normal number of seats.) So far, 300 new train cars have been purchased, featuring airline-style headrests and graceful luggage racks. But officials say the bar cars remain a low priority, and may not be ordered.
“A decision was made early on that more seats on the trains was our top priority and that bar cars — as popular as they are — could wait,” said Judd Everhart, a spokesman for Connecticut’s department of transportation, which operates New Haven Line trains in conjunction with Metro-North. “It was about that simple.”