Rodney Chabot, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, wants Metro-North to hire SWAT teams — and he doesn’t mean the “police kind.”
“Metro-North trains are just getting dirtier and dirtier,” said Chabot, who oversees the transportation watchdog group. “I want the kind of SWAT team that’ll come in and clean toilets.”
Commuter complaints about dirty bathrooms, a lack of seating on train cars and insufficient parking at Connecticut’s train stations are “at the highest level in years,” Chabot said Tuesday.
The rail council, a volunteer group of commuters appointed by Connecticut lawmakers, acts as a liaison between riders, the state government and administrators at the Metro-North and Shoreline East railroads.
Chabot said riders are also unhappy about the age of Metro-North’s rail cars — many of which are 25 years old — and are displeased with the “dingy appearance” of the bulletproof plastic windows standard on most of the railroad’s 950 trains and engines.
Chabot said most consumers’ complaints centered around Metro-North, a division of the publicly-funded Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and were not directed at Shoreline East, Connecticut’s other commuter rail line.
Shoreline East, which is operated by Amtrak, runs along the coast from New Haven to New London and is funded by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
A Metro-North spokesman, Dan Brucker, said the railroad is “in the process of addressing” most of the council’s complaints.
Brucker said the reason for the uncleanliness — which was commuters’ primary complaint — is a recent surge in ridership on the railroad.
Metro-North’s New Haven line, which runs from New York’s Grand Central Terminal to Union Station in New Haven, is its busiest.
Brucker said trains now spend less time at Union Station and Grand Central and more time in transit, significantly reducing the time maintenance staff have to clean the cars and make repairs.
Chabot said Metro-North should devise new ways to clean the trains — even if it means just the bathrooms — in the short time they are in the two stations.
Brucker said Metro-North trains almost always have enough seats — and commuters only complain because they do not like to sit in the “middle seat” on three-person benches.
“The problem with customers is they hate the middle seat,” he said. “The middle seat is no shorter than any of the other seats, and it has no less cushioning — and we here at Metro-North cordially invite all of our riders to sit in it.”
The parking shortage is strictly the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s problem, Brucker said.
The plastic glass material in the Lexan windows — which the railroad uses because of safety concerns — deteriorates rapidly when exposed to rain and snow and actually makes the windows cloudier each time the trains are washed, Brucker said.
Chabot said Metro-North should come up with the funding to replace them.
“No one likes to look out of cloudy windows,” the commuter advocate said.
Both Brucker and Chabot agreed that the real problem behind the shortage of cars and the age of the the railroad’s existing fleet is a lack of funding from the state.
Officials at the state Department of Transportation did not return phone calls Tuesday.