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.



Lawmakers could boil the frog

By James Lee FormerIP at en.wikipedia [CC 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.

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.

There is no prize for being first to your car


From Metro-North’s Facebook

This was the sage advice from our conductor tonight on the earliest Hudson Line train I’ve caught in ages.  I’ll decipher conductor speak:

It snowed.  It’s slippery.  Be careful.  Trying to get that extra minute back for being the first car out of the parking lot won’t do you a whole lot of good if you slip and crack your head open on the way to your Toyota Camry.

But, the impending doom winter storm made people leave even earlier than me.  The 4:45p Express was only three-quarters full as we pushed out of Grand Central.  It was in stark contrast to earlier trains, outlined in this report from a fellow commuter about her 1:43p train:

My train, standing room only.  Horrible!  Sandwiched in by a large woman in a puffy coat and a man! Can’t believe he squeezed in!

Ah.  The ol’ puffy coat is the bane of any commuter.  Apparently, some believe they need this type of coat just in case the train engineer finds a wrinkle in the universe and we end up on the ice planet Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back instead of Midtown.  For you information, the NYC median winter temperature clocks in above freezing.  So, easy Han Solo, our winter’s won’t make your Tauntaun freeze.

But, this storm will likely keep a lot of commuters home on Tuesday.  I mean, unless you have a Tautaun.

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.

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.

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.

I drove to work the other day

"HenryHudson". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“HenryHudson”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Hudson’s last voyage to the new world ended when his crew mutinied and left him to die at sea.  After driving on the parkway named for the great explorer, I may understand how his crew felt.

The Henry Hudson Parkway proved my undoing as I attempted the unthinkable.  It was something that will get a parkway, a river and a cute Columbia County village named after you.  Something crazy.  For Sir Henrik, that something was spending months at sea looking for a western passage to the Orient.

For me, cue Tower of Power, it was driving to work.  Boom.

It is about 60 miles from my house to the office in New York.  Google tells me it should take (without traffic – oh, Google) one hour and thirteen minutes and 1:22 with traffic.  Google is a liar.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 12.22.57 PM

The first part – down the Palisades – was a breeze; as was getting over the GWB amazingly.  But, my luck ran out as I wound down to the Henry Hudson. Traffic came to stop. Pot hole repair crews were on the scene and we slowly crept down the west side of Manhattan.  An hour after I paid my $12 to cross the bridge the journey to Chelsea was complete.

I got to do it all over again going home.  I mean, after the old $46 dollar shot to the family jewels at the parking garage.

Grand total (cue the horns):    Two stressful, traffic-filled hours each way.  No beer on the train or reading a magazine or blogging.  It was just unhappy people stuck in traffic on poorly designed parkways.  I mean, the Saw Mill still has traffic lights in Yonkers.  Come on.

Plus, $75 worth tolls, gas and parking.

I won’t do it again, unless I have to.  Unlike Henry Hudson, what I discovered was nothing new.  I don’t like to drive.