Metro-North customer satisfaction back on track

While New England railroad lines can be prone to delays of service or crowded rail cars, a new report from the Metropolitan Transit Authority showed customer satisfication with the Metro-North railroad is on the rise.

Overall, 93 percent of passengers who took part in the annual MTA study expressed approval of the rail operator’s service, marking themselves as either “satisfied” or “very satisfied.” While that figure experienced a modest increase from 89 percent in the previous year, the spike in “very satisfied” customers was greater — 40 percent of respondents this year were “very satisfied” compared to 33 percent in 2011.

The overall satisfaction rating, on-time performance rating and ratings for the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines all rebounded to their 2010 levels. Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council — a 15-member body appointed by the state legislature that acts as a liaison between commuters and the state Department of Transportation, Metro-North and the Shore East Line railroads — said a major factor in the customer satisfaction increase is the gradual introduction of a new rail car model.

“In rush hour, you have about a one-third chance of your train being made of new cars, and on weekends it’s about a 50-50 chance. That makes the commute a lot more reliable and pleasurable,” Cameron said.

According to an MTA press release, 405 of the new model cars will replace the old fleet. Cameron said 125 of those cars are already in service.

Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said that the new M-8 rail cars are brighter, cleaner and more reliable. Specifically, she said, they come equipped with more comfortable seats and larger windows.

“Just about everything is different,” she said.

Cameron also attributed the bounce in ratings to the “mild winter” of the past year. In the previous winter, he said, “so many cars were out of service that they had to cut trains from the timetable.”

While Metro-North trains operate on-schedule 97 percent of the time, Cameron said the company has perennially struggled to communicate with customers during disruptions. Metro-North is stepping up its efforts to improve on that front, he added.

“Whether it’s the conductors on the train themselves, the public address system on the platform or any of the many electronic platforms that are being used — email, Twitter, texting services, third-party applications — I think the railroad could score more points in improving its communication,” Cameron said. “I think they’ve come a long way, I give them credit for having really turned that around, but I think that there’s still room for improvement there.”

Daniel Tahara ’14, whose parents live in the New Rochelle area, said his three trips with Metro-North this semester have been more comfortable as a result of the newer cars, which he said are cleaner than the old models.

Cameron said trains are sometimes dirty because there is not always enough time for them to be cleaned at the end of a line before they have to depart again. The addition of more rail cars to Metro-North’s fleet will allow the rest time for trains to be cleaned more frequently, he added.

Sigrid von Wendel ’12, who lives in New York City, is more impressed with the new fleet’s technology. She and her boyfriend, Raphael Shapiro ’13, have big ideas for how they plan to use amenities on the new cars.

“We are going to have a little snack spot,” she said. “We’re going to get a power strip and have a blender. The possibilities with all the outlets on the new Metro-North trains are just limitless ­— you could bring your espresso machine on the Metro-North train right now.”

Effective Oct. 14, Metro-North will increase service by over 5 percent.

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