Metro-North Railroad to cut services

In the midst of delays and lack of space on board trains, Metro-North Railroad is responding to complaints by cutting back the number of daily trains it offers.

The commuter railroad company announced Wednesday it will reduce weekday a.m. and p.m. peak services on the New Haven Line by around 10 percent starting next Monday as it attempts to repair weather-damaged equipment and improve reliability. Changes to the New Haven timetable, which will remain in effect until at least March 4, will result in two fewer a.m. trains and a rearranged timetable. This is set to worsen the current crowding and service problems that have already plagued train passengers this winter, said Howard Permut, the president of Metro-North Railroad.

“The extreme winter weather’s repeated pummeling of the region has had a devastating impact on our New Haven Line,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Close to 150 railcars are out of service on the New Haven Line each day, he said, calling the situation “dire.”

Majorie Anders, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the shortage of operational railcars necessitated the cut to services. The fact that nearly 70 percent of the railcars are around 40 years old, and that the weather has been so poor, makes repairs difficult, she said. It remains unclear when the repairs will finish. Key railcar components to be repaired include traction motors, brakes and doors.

“We want people to be able to count on what we promise,” she said, referring to the times listed on the current schedule.

Passengers can be more confident in the new scheduled times because fewer trains will operate, she said, and the new timetable allows for a necessary focus on equipment repairs. She said Metro-North was aware of consistent overcrowding on its vehicles, and that this change would allow the company to bring back more railcars into service once repairs are complete.

Kevin Nursick, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, said the government was confident Metro-North was doing everything it could given the circumstances.

“Every mode of transportation is taking a hit right now,” he said. “Whether it’s highways, trains, buses, airports — all of them are taking significant hits right now.”

Nursick agreed that both the weather and aging equipment were problems, but also said the Kawasaki M-8 rail cars that the government has purchased would have been more resilient in face of weather damages.. However, while the state has already purchased 342 M-8 railcars for Metro-North, only 24 have been received so far. None are in service yet because of an electrical problem, but the company hopes to put them into service sometime in the first quarter of 2011, Permut said.

The M-8 railcars feature technological upgrades, and would gradually replace the old cars, which are known as M-2s. Nursick said that while these new railcars will be less susceptible to the weather, they are not invincible.

“Without question, we would be in a better spot [with the new railcars],” Nursick said. “But would they be immune to the weather? No.”

Meanwhile, at Union Station, passengers are far from pleased by the reduced service schedules.

John Bell, 34, a New Haven resident who commutes to Stamford each day, said he was horrified Metro-North had the nerve to cut the number of services it ran.

“My train is delayed, packed, and that’s on a good day,” he said. “It’s [Metro-North’s new schedule is] just going to make things worse.”

A Manhattan resident, Victor Yi, 29, said he will look into alternative ways to New Haven, including buses and Zipcars.

Permut acknowledged passenger woes.

“There will be crowding on trains and reliability of the service will be difficult to maintain,” he wrote in an online letter to New Haven Line customers. “You want us to revert to our regular schedule as soon as possible. So do we.”

A new schedule for Saturdays and Sundays will be in effect Feb. 5.

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