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.

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.


Urban planning advice from the college girls who got on in Westchester

Listen up planners.

From the college girls on my train who got on in Westchester (who strangely had southern accents),

“You know in our town you need a f*cking car to like get anywhere, you can’t like f*cking walk, sucks.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Well, I probably could have.

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 nose

Metro-North cancelled the 8:28a to GCT this morning pushing me to a combined 8:59a train.  I pittied the poor souls who got in Croton, because seats were pretty much full.  While this stinks on the surface, it did allow me to hear this gem of a conversation.

Daughter:  You see this bump.  This is dad’s nose.

Mom:  Oh?

Dad:  I don’t want dad’s nose.  I don’t want to look this way for my boyfriend or husband.  Dad’s nose is ugly.

Poor dad’s nose.

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.

Blah, blah, blah


The off-peak trains offer ample opportunity to experience people who are not your standard commuters.   Let’s call them the occasional,  off-peak rider.  There are the ones confused by peak and off-peak, some who wonder if the train is going to Grand Central (they all go to Grand Central from here and if this one isn’t, we are all in trouble), and many who feel the need to talk and talk and talk.

You may remember in Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold gets his bonus.  It is a metaphor for how I feel about extended talking on an inbound morning peak train, even outside of the quiet car.  Those folks get down right nasty.  Jelly of the month club all the way.

Lately, a slight schedule change has me riding a morning off-peak train, where the world I used to know is gone.  Gone is the understanding that you have a few choices –  sleep, read, or headphones – for the time we will spend together.  This is lost on this group.  But, they do know how to talk and talk and talk.  And this morning, I was surrounded.

Some pearls of wisdom and key points of information learned on my ride in to Grand Central.

From the two girls that just met in the two seater in front of me:

– “I need to be able to drive to  Target.” On not liking the location of her apartment. 

–  “I need to be near a Nordstrom.” the other girl who apparently has more money than Target girl.

–  “The vanilla cookies aren’t very good, but the chocolate cupcakes rock.”  This insight regarding the Magnolia Bakery and that stinks because I like vanilla cookies.

“I was the only skinny person in the Wappinger’s Olive Garden.  You get that far north, yikes”.  One girl oblivious that she was insulting most of the riders who boarded prior to her because of their weight or because they are in fact from Dutchess County or  even both.

–  “I took my 6 year-old camping at Bonnaroo.”  Awesome.

From the family of three spread out across three seats because they had a suitcase.  One suitcase.

– “95-100 in photography!”  Mother reading off son’s grades from an email on her phone.

–  “74-70 in earth science?”  Yet another example of how we are failing to educate our youth in STEM related fields.   Shape up junior because now all of the Hudson Valley knows.

–  “I have no service.   No, I’m on the 3G.  Nope, no service.  No, wait, 3G.”  Seriously?

Here’s to you occasional, off-peak train rider.  May your confusion level remain as high as the level of entertainment you provide all of us daily commuters. 

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.