Yalies taking the Metro-North train to New York City have a longer ride than ever before.
On Dec. 6, the FRA instituted “slow orders” that put ceilings on the maximum train speed in 35 different places on the New Haven Line, part of two emergency orders the agency issued after a a Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx that killed four and injured 63. The agency’s directives apply to curves that require a reduction in speed greater than 20 mph, where trains have had to slow down earlier. These changes lengthen the average Metro-North ride. Whereas the ride from Union Station to Grand Central Terminal used to end in under 100 minutes, it can now take as long as 116 minutes. These restrictions continue in spite of the successful completion of repairs for five sections of track and five moveable bridges in Cos Cob, South Norwalk, Westport, Bridgeport and Milford, Conn., all of which are on the New Haven Line.
The speed reductions are on the outer New Haven Line, where bridges and curves are prevalent, and will remain in place even after track repairs are completed, according to Connecticut DOT Spokesman Judd Everhart.
“They are permanent until and unless track conditions improve significantly, which would require capital improvements,” he said in an email. “There are no plans [for such a project].”
John Hartwell, the Vice Chair of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said that Metro-North’s rail tracks are severly outdated, and the recent repairs represent only a fraction of the kind of overhaul the FRA is demanding.
“It has nothing to do with the fact that the trains are fundamentally sound, it has to do with the way the tracks were configured 150 years ago,” he said. “If the tracks were safe all the way down to New York the ride would be much faster.”
Hartwell added that the longer travel time to New York should be regarded as permanent, given how long it will likely take to obtain funds for train repair. Slower is the new normal, he said.
The FRA followed up on Dec. 16 by launching “Operation Deep Dive,” a full audit of Metro-North’s safety practices. The report, released on March 14, faulted the railroad for fomenting a culture where employees “rush when responding to signal failures.” The report alleged that Metro-North has not given enough time for track department employees to make repairs, or for testing officers to conduct routine speed tests. The findings were based both on interviews with Metro-North employees and the FRA’s own observations.
New Haveners and commuters across the Metro-North Line have a longer commute enforced by the FRA’s directives in spite of recent efforts by new Metro-North President Joseph Giuletti to remake Metro-North’s image. In addition to the track and bridge repairs, which were completed five months ahead of schedule, Giuletti has announced a listening tour consisting of six “informal customer forums” in Connecticut and New York to see what else can be done on the track.
Rep. Roland Lemar D-New Haven, who currently serves on the House Transportation Committee, said that Metro-North is in the process of making improvements and should be given the appropriate time to complete the improvements, though this will mean slower transit in the meantime.
Two of nine Yalies interviewed said they had not heard about the delays. However, six said the half hour delay constituted a major inconvenience.
Max Holman MUS ’15 said that while he finds Metro-North’s service “inconsistent,” he is glad the railroad is paying close attention to safety needs.
Hélène Cesbron Lavau ’16 said she will continue to use Metro-North so long as the delays do not prevent her from making same-day trips.
The current iteration of concerns over Metro-North’s effectiveness began after a May 2013 derailment between Bridgeport and Fairfield, Conn.