Metro-North Commuter Railroad

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.

 

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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.