metronorth

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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Lawmakers could boil the frog

By James Lee FormerIP at en.wikipedia [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.

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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.

johnny

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:

Ron

Thanks, guy.

Listen, and remember

Metro-North at Cold SpringThe sound is a simple one; low but powerful.  It is a noise that is part of the region’s soundtrack.  The deep steady sound of the train’s horn – commuter or freight – lets you know a train is coming.

And that is its job; to alert people of the massive machine before it reaches platforms, tunnels, or grade crossings.  I can imagine it is a sound that many heard seconds before the Harlem Line crash in Valhalla Tuesday night.  The sound was quickly replaced by the violence of a crash that killed six people and injured more than a dozen; the noise of an express train hitting a SUV stopped on the tracks, stopped in a spot – by mistake or on purpose – where it should not have been.

While some politicians tactfully began riding in on their white horses just hours after the crash, the number of accidents Metro-North has had at grade crossings is comparably low to other commuter transit agencies.  Between, 2012-2014 Metro-North had five accidents at crossings.  NJ Transit had 30.  Long Island Rail Road had 27.  MBTA in Boston had 17.  Across all railroads – freight and passenger – deadly accidents at crossings peaked in 1989 with 801.  In 2013, that number had fallen to 251.    It is true that Metro-North’s safety record has been troubled recently and there should be a thorough investigation into the crash but this one likely wasn’t its fault.  The reality is the only way to truly stop accidents at crossings is to not have trains at-grade.  Ask Al Smith why there are no grade-level trains in New York City anymore.

There are two crossings like this on the Hudson Line between Cold Spring and Croton-Harmon.  One is by the tiny, isolated station at Manitou.  The other is north of the Peekskill Station where you can cross for access to a park along the river.  This morning, we pushed through these crossings as icy flakes fell from the sky.  The train horn sounded, the red lights flashed and the gates went down.  A steady tone alerted anyone down the line a train was on its way.  Until this week, it was just another noise along the way to Grand Central.  But, as the horn sounded this time before we pass through the crossings, it provided me a small but audible connection to this terrible accident.  It acted as a personal reminder of the people who died or were injured at a spot very similar.  They are people I never met but they were doing the same thing I do every day.  Ride the train.  Go to work.  Head home.

This time, sadly, some of them never made it home.

When you hear a train’s horn – tonight or tomorrow or whenever – think about the people who died or who were injured.  Use it as a chance to reflect on how quickly lives can be changed and keep their families in your thoughts.

And, also use that sound – or the flashing red lights or the gates being down  – as a reminder of something equally important. There is a train coming.

Grand standing after Metro-North crash a bit much

It appears a Jeep stopped on the tracks caused the deadly Metro-North accident tonight in Valhalla.  And before the sun had come up a few members of Congress – from Connecticut – decided it was a good time to release statements that really make you wonder.

From the Connecticut Post:  

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., expressed sorrow over the accident, and called for fast answers on the crash’s cause.

“I’m impressed and grateful for the immediate response of the emergency personnel, but my heart and my prayers go out to anybody who was injured, and to the families of the fatalities as well,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “I’ve contacted the Federal Railroad Administration and asked for an immediate investigation.

Thank goodness you asked for an investigation; no one in New York would have thought of that.  And, not for nothing, at least six people died so I’d imagine the FRA probably would have showed up even if you hadn’t called.

And this from U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, also from the Connecticut Post:  

“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of tonight’s horrific crash on Metro-North and their families during this difficult time…Commuters and their families need to be able to rely on safe, timely rail service. As a member of the Rail Subcommittee on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I will be raising serious questions with Metro-North and the Federal Railroad Administration on what actions can be taken to prevent this in the future. I’ve worked closely on rail safety efforts on the Committee, and tonight’s crash is a glaring indication that more must be done.”

And thank you for building yourself up as our savior by “raising serious questions” about train safety at a time when you’d been better off stopping the statement at “this difficult time.”

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!

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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.

My commute is a political football

20141006_181448I received this note in my inbox from my benefits provider this morning:

The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, signed into law on December 19, 2014, retroactively increased the tax-free mass transit benefit from $130 to $250 for the 2014 calendar year.

But, I feel a little used.  This happens each year.  The benefit is treated as a bargaining chip inside the mess that is our Congress.  It is used as a way for elected officials to say, “Hey, look what we did for you.  We got you $250 of tax-free transit.”  Or, in non-transit states, “we didn’t raise your taxes because we found some money in a place you wouldn’t look anyway.  Don’t forget to vote in November.”

The sad part is this is just for 2014.  In 2015, now, we go back to $130.

Why it is bounces back and forth makes very little sense seeing it doesn’t really cost a whole lot.

From the House Ways and Means Committee,

According to JCT , this provision would reduce revenues by $10 million over 2015-2024.

$10 million over 10 years.  That’s doesn’t sound like a lot of money. But, it is Congress, why should it make sense.