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.



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.

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.

Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!

The storm was a dud.  Plain and simple.  For anyone who longed for two feet of snow, commuting nightmares and good-old-fashioned death and destruction, here are some old headlines from past storms to fulfill your sick need

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From The Tuscaloosa News on February 21, 1947:

A UPI report outlined “the worst storm in years” that dropped between “2 and 19 inches” (sounds familiar) in and around New York.  My favorite part of the article was this passage.

The storm grounded all airplanes.  It delayed ships at sea.  Train travel was slowed from minutes to more than three hours.  Commuters got to their jobs late.  Schools were snowed in.  Thousands of rural residents were marooned.”

I like this for the use of the word “marooned” and that it reads like that Ghostbusters scene when they are meeting with the Mayor:

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From The Pittsburgh Press on January 25th, 1905:

An article about New York’s big storm that saw “streets choked with drifts, trains late, ferries delayed, surface cars and elevated behind time, fighting to keep going.”  Police had to be called out for the surface trains to “clear crowds who fought for entrance on the cars.  Many narrowly escaped injury.”  Apparently, the headline writer did not escape injury as he likely needed his head examined after deciding to name a winter storm something stupid like Ice King.  I mean, that’s like naming the storm Juno or something.  Oh wait.  Also, doesn’t Ice King sounds like the guy who ends up marrying Queen Elsa in Frozen. 

Sorry, Olaf.  But you basically summed up yesterday’s storm.  Was it as bad as everyone thought it was going to be?

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.

The great crumbling


Croton-Harmon Station

Two days and two breakdowns on the Hudson Line: Monday’s 8:28a from Cold Spring was canceled because the train broke down at New Hamburg. Tuesday’s 6:48a from Cold Spring broke down in Peekskill. It seemed fitting that yesterday the APTA posted this 60 Minutes report from November outlining our country’s failing infrastructure.

We have lift off…to Suffern


As a commuter on the Port Jervis Line from Salisbury Mills there are some things I want. An earlier 7 o’clock hour train in the morning – right now the only one is 7:42 a.m. – would be nice. A nightly 8 o’clock hour train that is semi-express home would also be a bonus. The last connection to an express PJ train is at 7:43 p.m. from Penn Station. The next Port Jervis connection is not until almost 10 for a 20+ stop local. Fun times. Next stop, Delawanna!

It could be worse. Because, it was worse, much worse in 1982!

This 1982 schedule introduced the Middletown Shuttle service to Suffern, with connections to Hoboken. This was the start of MTA adding service on the line owned by Conrail. Strike up the Erie-Lackawanna marching band. Nothing like riding an old Budd RDC to Suffern to catch a train to take you to the PATH (another train) to get you to NYC. You probably weren’t going to Hoboken as it wasn’t really a hot spot back then. No Cake Boss. Yuppies. Eli Manning.


This schedule also offers you a glimpse at the level of service, other than the shuttle, with only three rush hour express trains each way. Sadly, three trains in 1982 may have been enough. The Orange County Planner in a 1980 Newburgh Evening News report said, “…ridership had jumped to 1050 persons a day” and Orange County was the “fastest growing” MTA service segment. It makes you wonder what the numbers were in 1979. Anecdotally, a friend’s mother told me in the 1970’s she used get the train mornings in Monroe (no longer a station) with two or three other people. I wonder if they all pitched in for gas diesel when the conductor came around.

In 2014, I want those two trains. But, I know what I do not want. 1982.