Grand Central Terminal

The rescue train is on its way…again.

A P32AC-DM locomotive heading south to Cold Spring station on the Hudson Line/Tim1337 via Wikipedia

“Train is dead folks. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Those are words I never heard a conductor say before.

“We are getting pushed back to the platform.”

The locomotive leading a 7:21 pm Hudson Line express north to Poughkeepsie broke down moments after it left Grand Central Terminal.  The engine is one of Metro-North’s GE P32AC-DM locomotives; the regular power for Hudson Line trains heading north of the end of the electrification at Croton-Harmon Station.  It is something that happens more than Metro-North would like.

The railroad’s latest operations report shows the P32’s 2015 goal for something called Mean Distance Between Failures (MDBF) is 35,000 miles.  The engine averaged 16,250 MDBF in July; a number that accounted for 12 engines breaking down while hauling passengers.  In June, it averaged 21,124 with 9 breakdowns.  Since the start of 2015, its average was 22,186 MDBF, with its 12 month rolling average 22,316 MDBF.

This compares to June 2014 when its MDBF was 26,516 with 7 breakdowns.  In July 2014, the P32 averaged 19,361 MDBF and had 10 breakdowns.

Given their recent performance, Metro-North’s MDBF goals seem a bit ambitious for the P32.  One could hope it is just overconfidence by the goal setters or an anomaly in the average (one locomotive breaking down repeatedly).

If they are failing because of age that is  more troubling seeing the oldest of bunch ordered by both Metro-North are just turning 20 and no new ones are on the way.  There is no mention of P32 replacements in the MTA’s capital budget for 2015-2019.  Amtrak also owns P32s and it is not planning on buying any new diesel locomotives until 2024.  That is not surprising, though, as these engines should have a lot of life left in them.

Ultimately, we did not get moved back to the platform.  Problems with the rescue train prevented it from taking us back to Grand Central.  Instead, we were drug north to 125th Street by a different train an hour and half after we first broke down.

“Train will be across the platform. We apologize for the inconvenience. We are doing the best we can.”

As I was writing this, my wife’s train broke down in the tunnel.  It was also being hauled by a P32.



Groundhog Day is her favorite holiday

Ground Hog copy

Groundhog Day is in February.  On Groundhog Day, February monthly passes are accepted.  In July, February monthly passes are not accepted. But, don’t tell that to one woman I recently heard about trying to ride Metro-North.  The woman, who claimed she spoke very little English, presented the February monthly to the conductor.  The conductor wasn’t going for it.

The conductor asked for a different ticket.  She said this is what had come out of the machine.

15 minutes into the trip he returned to the lady and told her she would either need to buy a ticket or face the consequences.

The woman – now grasping the English language – paid for a ticket.  The conductor said this isn’t the first time this woman has tried to pull this scam.


Lawmakers could boil the frog

By James Lee FormerIP at en.wikipedia [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsYou have heard the metaphor about a frog placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the trouble it is in and is boiled alive.

That metaphor can be used about Albany’s dealing with the MTA Capital Budget.  Newly reappointed MTA boss Tom Prendergast has been sounding the alarm about the $14 billion budget hole.  But, of course, the New York State legislature just hasn’t gotten around to it; seeing how busy they’ve been with the important stuff that just needed to get done before session ended.

The reality is Albany rarely boils the frog.   It is only $14 billion over five years.  The New York State budget is $142 billion this year alone.  Plus, the MTA still has money left over from its last capital budget.  State lawmakers historically tackle big problems just as the water in the pot begins to bubble and our scaly friends realize it is time to take action.  Of course, I am talking about the frogs, not the lawmakers.

“There was a pregnant girl sitting on the floor.”

I knew it was going to be an odd night when I got in line at Rite-Aid with the following two people in front of me:  A man with a small pony tail buying six umbrellas and a woman who needed change for a five dollar bill.

The woman requested three dollars in quarters (she got two) and two singles (she got three).  Why would you need three dollars in quarters at Grand Central?  Maybe she was doing was laundry later?  How much laundry can you do with two dollars in quarters?  I should have asked her.  The man’s umbrella extravaganza went off without incident.  Maybe he’s got big plans for the umbrellas.


Now, the 6:45p Hudson Line express train to Poughkeepsie is not my normal train.  If I had to guess, it must be one of the more crowded Hudson Line trains of the night.  It is the first rush-hour express train to the northern part of the line (above Croton-Harmon) not paired with a super express train that skips all of upper Westchester and Putnam stops before hitting Beacon in Dutchess County.


Channeling Johnny Carson:

Johnny:  I tell you, this train was so packed.

Audience:  How packed was it?

Johnny:  This train was so packed the conductor mentioned to another conductor that there was “a pregnant girl sitting on the floor.”

ed hiooo

Wait Ed.  That’s not a punch line.  That’s just terrible.

On top of being crowded, it was the last day for April monthly passes.  And, if you are not familiar with how the monthly commutation pass works, on the first day of the new month conductors will let you slide with last month’s pass so you can get into the City and buy a new monthly.

A gentleman behind me – who had already complained about the announcements being too loud – decided to inquire awkwardly about why the May monthly passes were not good for the last day in April.  The logic of course is you can use the April monthly on the first day of May why not the opposite.  The conductor – a younger woman – shut him down with the, “that’s not how it works” and “that’s a great suggestion, not the first time someone has asked, but the higher ups don’t listen to me.”

He stopped talking and paid for a ticket.

As for the pregnant girl on the floor, the conductor let us know that he found her a seat.  But, he had to ask someone to get up.

ed hiooo

The Curry Palace Express is leaving the station

7:20 p.m.  Hudson Line.  The old trains with the wood-grain panels.

I’m on the inside of a two-seater.  My left foot firmly planted against the silver metal case that surrounds the floor heater. My right leg pressed against the seat in front of us, marking the edge of my personal space.

Green Henley and brown corduroy pants sits down. He removes his jacket and, with his satchel, places it on the luggage rack above our heads.  His leg is moving closer to mine.  I look over.  A yellow plastic bag remains on his lap.  His knee touches mine.  I know what is about to happen.

It is pretty normal this time of night for people riding home to eat on the train. It is not the simplest maneuver seeing a Metro-North Shoreliner coach was never meant for that purpose.  But, seeing cafe/bar cars have not been seen on the Hudson Line since the 1980’s – if you want to eat something you will be doing it right there with the rest of us.  No matter what you have decided to shovel into your gullet, we will be there for your feast.  And, because your fellow commuters are along for the ride, your choice for dinner will determine if you are that guy.  As I took a deep breath,  I knew.  Green Henley with brown cords was that guy.

The white plastic container with the clear top slid out from the plastic bag.  The steam from the hot food condensing on the lid.  I looked over.  Pop.  I waited.  It hit me as Green Henley pushed his plastic spoon in stew-like consistency.  My eyes watered.

Indian food, with a lot of curry.

My reaction:


Thanks, guy.

Bar Car: Back to the Grand Central Taste NY Store

20141020_175044_resizedI was not in the mood for a Rolling Rock tall boy.  While I do enjoy the easy drinking pale lager brewed formerly in the glass lined tanks of a Latrobe, PA brewery (now in the non-glass lined tanks of InBev/AB’s Newark, NJ facility near the airport on scenic Rt. 1&9; which really bothers the people in Latrobe), today I wanted something different.  So, I sauntered over to Grand Central’s new to-go beer and wine palace, The Taste NY Store.

I say palace for two reasons.

First, the variety of beer and wine is great.  The store has a cooler full of micro-brews with lots of local wine by the bottle or glass.  I grabbed a Fire Island Lighthouse Ale and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Second, someone could be funding the construction of a palace based on the store’s prices.  The beer by the bottle will run you $5-$6.  Ok, not so bad.  Cups of wine cost either $7 or $11 (not a typo).  I felt frisky and went for the $11 glass plastic solo cup of white wine.  And, because I am committed to frugality and smart spending, I used a credit card.  ‘Cash is King’ financial radio show talker Dave Ramsey probably would have punched me in the neck if we discussed this whole transaction.  But, alas, I had my $5 bottle of beer and my $11 cup of vino and off to the train I went.  Also, it can’t hurt the Taste NY stores does not collect sales tax on alcohol that according to the NYS budget language when first enacted would have “minimal” effect on the state finances.  Minimal effect if you do not count the slightly more than $1 million the state will pay to promote and market Taste NY this year.  But, who is counting.

Still, I could be wrong (and probably am).  Rents keep going up in GCT unless you are the Apple Store.  Reports say Shake Shack is paying more than $200/square foot for its spot in the lower level food court.  I’d imagine the rent for TNY’s 460 square foot location near Starbucks is not as much but it probably is not cheap unless there was some sort of deal struck to get it in there.

I give the Taste NY store credit for sticking to its business plan:  sell a lot of alcohol at comparably expensive prices to the carts and Rite Aid.  What do you think they sell more of, bottles of beer or bottles of maple syrup?  Both suds and syrup may be acquired by taps.  But, there aren’t any maple trees growing near Track 38.

Bar Car: Great South Bay Brewery Massive IPA

Great South Bay Massive IPA

Where I bought it:  Taste NY Store in Grand Central

How much:  Five and change

Review: Ok. I gave the Taste NY store another try. And, I was happy to find a $12 bottle of Pinot Noir from a winery on Long Island. I didn’t buy it, but I was happy to find it.  What I was happier to find was a Great South Bay Massive IPA.

I am an IPA fan to begin with; but aren’t most yuppie 30-somethings, that drive a Subaru and live in one of those “up-and-coming” towns in the Hudson Valley?  You know, the ones that get featured once a year in the New York Times.  Umm.  Beacon, anyone?

Oh, the charm of the pre-war factories converted to condos. It almost reminds us of Brooklyn or the Village. And, the commmute! Just an scosch over an hour and change to the City.  Please.

Anyway, back to the beer. As someone who has been searching for an IPA geared towards my tastes – lots of hops on the floral side – this is my favorite so far. Very balanced.  And, if you let it get a little warmer than when you pull it out of the cooler, it is worth it.

Grade: Five Happy Beer Guys!

wpid-bigstock-retro-beer-guy-clip-art-17343080-1.jpg wpid-bigstock-retro-beer-guy-clip-art-17343080-1.jpg wpid-bigstock-retro-beer-guy-clip-art-17343080-1.jpg wpid-bigstock-retro-beer-guy-clip-art-17343080-1.jpg

Pillars and Peds close book on Posman

sign photoThe final chapter has been written on the Grand Central location of Posman Books.   A sign in the window prior to New Year’s sited “ongoing construction projects” and Grand Central’s “need for its space” for “improved pedestrian circulation.”

When I returned to GCT after the holidays it was closed.

Reports late last year sited the LIRR East Access project, along with SL Green’s 1 Vanderbilt building as those construction projects.  SL’s project includes $200 million in transit infrastructure improvements, and it also needs Posman’s space “to build pillars, columns or whatever it may need for 1 Vanderbilt, but it will turn most of the area into a pedestrian thoroughfare.”  This according to the Times via an MTA spokesman.

Posman was located near the 42nd street and Vanderbilt Avenue entrance ramp and its other locations are at Rockefeller Center and Chelsea Market. But, as the sign says, “not much consolation” to its loyal GCT customers.

1982 haunted 2013 for Metro-North

Spuyten Duyvil Station near derailment site/Anthony22 at English Wikipedia

It was one year ago this past Sunday that a Metro-North Hudson Line train derailed at a sharp curve just before Spuyten Duyvil station.  Four people died and dozens were injured. Some were returning home from Thanksgiving or heading to the City for the day. Others were just going to work.

Everyday I ride on a copy of the train that derailed; a Hudson Line express (with the same old, Shoreliner cars) that starts in Poughkeepsie, travels the same route through the same stretch of track to Grand Central.  And everyday, we pass through that stretch I think about the people that were hurt and people that died.

2013 was not Metro-North’s year; but it was supposed to be.

A press release sent out on New Year’s Day 2013 reminded riders of how far the railroad had come since the days of Conrail with language that proves haunting now.

Derailments, track fires, mechanical break downs…and always late. That’s the way it was on December 31, 1982, in what was the Metropolitan Region of Conrail. And that’s the way it was on January 1, 1983, when the name changed to Metro-North Commuter Railroad.

30 years later, then-president Howard Permut spoke of a railroad that had been rebuilt, revitalized and was “internationally recognized for its excellence” with “consistent on-time performance of better than 97% and a customer satisfaction rating of 93%.”

What is telling in the press release is for all the pats-on-the-back about performance and ridership, the word “safety” (in this case ‘safe’) is only used once.  One single mention in more than 1500 words.  A year later, all Metro-North is talking about is safety, even under the pressure from politicians for higher on-time performance.  Good for Metro-North.

I guess for some, the memories of last year have faded.  Mine have not.  When we hit that curve each morning and I look out the window I am reminded why being safe is better than being on-time.