train station

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.



New Jersey Transit has its Howard Beale moment

The big wigs over at NJ Transit apparently were watching Network yesterday as their morning rush melted down because of Amtrak’s wire problems inside the Hudson River tunnels.  For all of you who are not familar with Peter Finch’s Academy Award winning performance as the news anchor who “ran out of bullshit,” here’s a refresher.

Now, a recap of what happened yesterday:

Yikes!  And then it got a little better, sort of.

Single tracking means at most six trains can come in and out of Penn Station per hour.  You know what would help, how about new tunnels between NY and NJ?  Man, I wonder when someone will pitch that?  I mean, when will anyone come up with the idea to build new tunnels?

And then nearly 3 hours later at least they weren’t single tracking.

Anyway, as you can imagine, NJT riders were mad as hell.

And, some pointed the finger at squarely at Governor Christie and other elected officials.

While a couple of tunnels might have come in handy, it is scarier that Amtrak’s infrastructure is so fragile that it cannot keep the wires up that provide power to the trains.  This even though NJT slides Amtrak $100 million a year because NJT uses the tunnels a lot more than Amtrak.

The situation is a mess.  Amtrak is broke and its budgets are at the whims of Congress.  The Christie administration isn’t exactly transit’s friend.  The Cuomo administration does not have to care much seeing people that use the tunnels mostly vote in New Jersey

Sadly, I do not think anything will change until something really bad happens.   When that day comes, it should make you mad as hell.

Bar Car: Ommegang Rare Vos

20141218_180544Beer:  Brewery Ommegang Rare Vos

Where I bought it: The Taste NY store near the Biltmore Room inside Grand Central

Type: Amber Ale

How much: $5.99 for a 12 oz bottle

Notes: I have a love-hate relationship with the TasteNY store in GCT. Its beer selection is great but its prices are geared toward tourists apparently who may not know any better. Why would I pay $6.00 for a quality New York State beer when I can pay $3.75 at GCT’s beer carts for something similar.  But, I was lacking cash and not interested in a Bud Light Lime tall boy from Rite Aid, so I decided to give the store another shot. In its singles beer cooler, I found an Ommegang Rare Vos I decided to bite the bullet and pay up to taste New York (Ommegang is brewed in Cooperstown). Thankfully, Rare Vos tastes pretty darn good.

The back of the bottle explains that Rare Vos means “sly fox” in Flemish.  Flemish or ‘Belgian Dutch‘ is a language spoken in “Flanders, the northern part of Belgium.”  This is not to be confused with with Netherlands Dutch or Dutch, uh, Dutch.

So, I say Rare Vos, ik hou van je!  TasteNY store, het is mij te duur.

No kidding, the oldest continuously operating graveyard?

“Out the right hand side window, you’ll see the oldest, continuously operating graveyard in America.”

Just one of the fun facts our conductor shared with us on the nearly three hour jaunt from New York to DC.  And, in case you were wondering, the graveyard is in Wilmington across the street from the newly-named Joe Biden Transportation Center.

Other trivia:

–  Where the designer of the Pennsylvania Railroad WWII monument in 30th Street Station built a house for his wife.

–  Why it is called Boat House Row in Philly.

–  Why the Susquehanna River is the shortest commercially navigated river in the nation

–  And the reasoning behind naming Biden Station, Biden Station.  Apparently, the VEEP is from Wilimington.

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.

I wish Tex Williams was on the radio

In the summer of 1947, Tex Williams hit it big with a little ditty called “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette).” In his silky- smooth talking blues style, he complained for three minutes about how the need to light up was delaying a poker win as well as his “pettin’ party” with some “dame”.

You dog, Tex, with your cigarettes, gambling and “pettin’ party”.

The song spent six weeks at #1 on the billboard charts in ’47.  Oh, the good old days.

The news of Metro-North’s 4% fare hike – that will likely push my monthly north of $400 – made me long for the good old days when Tex ruled the airwaves.

My Reasons:

The New York Central’s West Shore passenger service (scroll all the way to the bottom) was still around and the monthly from nearby Newburgh to New York was all of $19.10.  That’s a little more than $200 in 2014 money.  $200!



Now there were only a handful of rush hour trains, the trip took close to 2 hours because of the required transfer to a Manhattan-bound ferry, but hey, $19.10 is $19.10.  And the train stopped in your town.  Yay!

But, the end was near.   Trains to Newburgh ended in 1958.   Years following, politicians and civic leaders yelled and screamed about how passenger service should be restored on the West Shore.  It never happened.  Eastern Orange County commuter service ended up in, of all places, Salisbury Mills and Campbell Hall, along a former Erie Railroad freight bypass.  Makes sense seeing why would we run the trains where people live?

I think I need a cigarette.

The beauty of the ramp

Fulton Center via MTA Flickr

Fulton Center via MTA Flckr

The new Fulton Center subway station is having some people moving problems that have nothing to do with trains.  The lead from a story in the NY Daily News from last Friday,

Apparently $1.4 billion doesn’t buy working elevators and escalators.

Oh, a few outages in a brand new station is to be expected, even if it did cost them a billion and a half dollars.  This is New York.  We pay $10 to ride in a yellow car for 15 minutes.  It could be worse. WMATA, (which looks fun to say if emphasize the Wh- sound) is the agency that operates the DC Metro.  It has spent decades breaking in its elevators and escalators that are now mostly just plain broken. Last year, Metro bosses said the organization would fix 79 escalators and elevators by the end of its fiscal year and were excited  when it got 3/4 of them done.  Jesus.

Which is why it always struck me as a bit of a gamble that the MTA’s East Side Access project – that will connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central – includes an extensive escalator network.  47 in all will bring people up and down from the LIRR tracks 15 stories below the street.  That’s waaaaayyyyy below the current lower level, where you find all the restaurants and homeless people.  But, escalators moving people from train platforms is in sharp contrast to the rest of Grand Central.  The terminal is mostly free of elevators and stairs (escalators were not prevalent in the early 1900’s). Instead, ramps are the main way people get around in GCT and that is by design.  From an NPR interview with Sam Roberts, the author of “Grand Central:  How a Train Station Transformed America,”

Another Grand Central innovation was the ramp. “The place has virtually no staircases… long-distance travelers were coming in with suitcases, lots of luggage, and the ramps were built to accommodate them.

The shear number of escalators will hopefully give commuters enough working options to get to the surface when break downs or maintenance occurs.  But, why not ramps, or at least a mix of ramps? Stadiums use extensive ramp systems that seem to get people at least down.  And, of course,ramps do not require much of a breaking-in period, because, well, they are ramps.

First Impression: The “Taste NY” Store in Grand Central


Tucked next to Junior’s upstairs spot, the new Taste NY store is now open.  Three things stood out:

1) There’s a lot of Long Island wine.  Not surprising seeing a LI winery is running the store.
2)  They only take credit cards.  No cash.
3)  They have single bottles of beer, but my choice – a Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner – was $6.50.  Yikes!

Secaucus Sailing…

At Secaucus Junction they pipe in soft rock on the platforms. Today’s selection, Sailing by Christopher Cross was soothing us as we waiting for the train to Penn Station. While NJT is looking for calm commuters, the Cumberland Farms, where I grabbed coffee this morning, welcomed me with For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) by AC/DC. I started doing a Brian Johnson impression under my breath and sang along.