Sun Shines After Snow Day. Metro-North Does Not.

It was Friday.

Thursday had been the snowstorm. I’d worked from home–no way I was banking on Metro-North getting me to Gotham in a timely fashion when I could simply spark up the home computer and work from what we jokingly call the Westchester bureau.

The kids were home from school. Their friends came over. Everyone was basically trapped inside. It was noisy and a little claustrophobic.

I was pretty pumped to get to the city the next day, to my quiet office.

So I set out on foot Friday. The roads were icy when I left a little after 8, but the sun was making its first appearance in what felt like weeks.

Metro-North announced it was running a Saturday schedule on Friday, the railroad assuming most people would take the day off, work from home yet again, etc.

But working from home two days in a row can be tricky. Maybe you thought ahead on Wednesday and brought home a day’s worth of stuff to do on Thursday, but no so much for Friday. Maybe you had to get to the office because the following week is the school holiday week and you’re off to Disney.

Actually, saying Metro-North “announced” a Saturday schedule is not quite accurate. I learned of the reduced service from my local Daily Voice e-newsletter. Metro-North has my email, my address, likely my phone number somewhere. The railroad does not make such service announcements for its customers–at least for this one.

Trains out of Hawthorne were hourly on the :54, instead of what would be more like three trains per hour on a weekday. There was an 8:54. It arrived a little before 9.

As I went to step on, the vestibule was jammed. I stayed on the platform to let the riders get off, wondering what had suddenly made dinky lil Hawthorne such a popular destination (were the Globetrotters playing at the Holy Rosary gym or something?). Not a soul got off. About a hundred Hawthorners squeezed onto the jammed–I mean, cheek by jowl humanity in the vestibule, the aisles–train.

I thought quickly. It would be jammed further at Valhalla, at North White Plains. And who the f*** knows what happens at White Plains.

Factor in the train’s typical 20% extra travel time these past few months and, ya know, the foot of snow that landed in the last 24 hours, and, well, it was going to be one of those famous Tokyo subway rides, without the locals’ famed politesse. An hour-plus, squeezed in like clowns in a clown car.

I tried a second set of doors, and a third. Same story. The doors shut.

Working from home. Again.

Metro-North later admitted it grossly underestimated the number of riders, the first gaffe in new president Joseph Giulietti’s new tenure.

“Based on forecasts of up to a foot of snow falling overnight, we were conservative in planning schedules to help reduce the chances that trains could become stranded or would have to be canceled,” Giulietti said in a statement. “When the sun shone through this morning, we had more customers than anticipated, particularly on the New Haven Line. We apologize for this morning’s crowding and expect to do better this afternoon.”

It has not been a good year, year and a half, for the former gold standard of commuter railroads.

I popped into the Hawthorne Station Cafe That’s Really a Deli for a consolation bacon egg and cheese. Queen Latifah was on, japing with Hugh Jackman. I saw a young man from my usual 8:16 train. I asked if he’d missed the announcement about the Saturday schedule.

He said he’d known of it, left his home in plenty of time, and proceeded to skid down the street until his car struck another one.

I passed along my regrets as I ate my egg sandwich.

Then I headed the mile back for home. The sidewalks were a foot deep in snow. I walked in the street. The sun was shining and the ice started to melt.

Eighteen minutes later, I surprised my kids at the door.

It seemed like they were happy to see me. Again.  

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Breaking! Metro-North Bronx Track Work Done…Some Time Ago!

So, you’ve been muddling along these past several months on Metro-North, your 35 minute ride to the city suddenly, and routinely, 45 minutes, your hour commute more like an hour and 15.

Every day. Each way.

The commute you agreed to when you bought your house–about 20% longer each day. Twice a day. Precious family time, shaved substantially as you get more quality time on a packed Metro-North car.

Hey, it’s just that track work in the Bronx, you say as a means to cope. It’ll be over soon.

Here’s what’s kind of a bummer. The track work in the Bronx is over. Yet the delays continue.

The new edition of Metro-North mouthpiece Mileposts offers “A Word About Your Service”: An attempt to explain how and why Metro-North–not all that long ago, the gold standard of New York…nay, U.S… train commuting–has fallen so far, so fast. It acknowledges the six miles of track being worked on in the Bronx for several months, cutting track capacity by as much as 50%.

“While that project is now finished…,” says Mileposts.

Yes, the track work is done. And your 45 minute train ride continues to tickle the hour mark.

Why? Mileposts says the railroad is rebuilding right-of-ways in other locations, and concedes what many of us have suspected–that everyone is watching their backs since the December 1 derailment, which brought in federal government watchdogs poking around at the Metro-North systems. Mileposts mentions “certain speed restrictions and specific changes to our operating practices” on all three lines in the wake of the fatal derailment.

Plus, the weather has been kind of shitty this winter.

Yet, through it all, the railroad was “on time”, by Metro-North’s count, 94.8% of the time in ’13, with my own Harlem line clocking in at an impressive 96.4%.

Let me be the first to exclaim, “Bullshit.” My morning ride, 48 minutes when I moved to the ‘burbs seven years ago–the longest I decided I could ride on a daily basis–averages around 57 minutes now. My evening jaunt, formerly 42 minutes, is 50 minutes on a typical day.

“On time,” my white Irish arse.

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Everyone’s a Critic!

The New Haven Line has no shortage of critics.

Including this aspiring film pundit, whose handiwork our Connecti-spondent “Saugatucker” found in a stack on his ride home to Westport recently.

Adds Saugatucker:

“Then the  guy seated across from me just pulled a silver flask out of his pocket
and poured its contents into a 24 oz Zaro’s cup of ice and topped it
with a dash of Snapple fruit punch.  Things could get all Beyond Rangoon
in here.”

newhavenlinecriticsmaller

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An Open Letter to Metro-North Riders

It’s been a pretty horrendous year or so for Metro-North. Derailments. Delays. More delays. Crowded cars.

We are frustrated. And sometimes we take it out on the conductors.

A Metro-North conductor addresses such treatment in an open letter to passengers–and to the incoming Metro-North president.

Bobby McDonough says conductors too want trains to be on time, and clean, and full of seats. He writes:

So, as enjoyable as it is to verbally berate your conductor, or however thrilling it is to give the finger to your engineer when he pulls into your station 15 minutes late, remember…WE’RE NOT THE PROBLEM! Could we apologize for the delays a little more frequently?  Sure we could!  Could we be a little more pleasant? Certainly!  But remember, we’re human too folks, and you are far from the first or last person that day to growl at us…call us hurtful names… or refuse to pay for this “terrible service.”

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Trainjotting Back From the Dead!?!

Just over a year since my host, Lunar Pages, shut down the site due to “malicious scripts” in the back end, Trainjotting appears to be back on the rails.

Wow.

 

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Enjoying Beer in the Can

The scene in the Metro-North bathroom Saturday night.

I added one vacated vessel to this rogue’s gallery of empties.

Hint: It wasn’t the Bud Light, the Bud Light tallboy, the Four Loko or the toilet paper.

It was a beer brewed a few miles from my house.

mnrcan

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When Fares Were Fair

sked2With our elected leaders seeing fit to expand the amount of pay we can deduct for transit expenses, I was poking around the Metro-North site, finding out precisely how much I cough up for my monthly ticket.

Well, that apparently depends on which page I access on the Metro-North site.

According to this one, we Zone 5’ers, including commuters out of Tarrytown, Ossining, Chappaqua and Hawthorne, pay $266 a month.

But I have to say–I like this one better, where the Zone 5 peeps pay a mere $163 a month.

With Metro-North is playing up its 30 year anniversary this month, I can’t help but wonder what year it was where a monthly ticket out of Hawthorne cost just $163.

1998? ’99? Earlier?

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