travel

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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Here, take my pickle. Come on, take it. 

The Metro-North trains are usually jammed packed at rush hour with working stiffs like me. So, if you are not normally riding with us, perhaps in town from a different country, here are a few tips to help our time together be more pleasent. 

1.  If you are going to eat, choose a dish with a mild smell.  Curries, Chinese food or fish are bad choices.  

2.  Offering food to your travel mates across other people is frowned upon especially if it is a food that drips like a wet pickle or a falafel.  

3. Don’t make phone calls on your cell you then pass around.  It’s bad enough you’re on your cell. Now, three people are on your cell. 

4.  Buy the right ticket.  You’ve ridden a train before right?  You wouldn’t get on a Ferris wheel without paying the correct amount, why is this ride any different. The MTA is happy to take your money on board but come on, there are only like 20 machines are half-a-dozen windows at Grand Central. 

5.  Know where your going. You can’t get to White Plains, New Haven, Philly, DC, etc. on my train.  Or, Tarrytown and Ossining.  You somehow by the grace of God made it to New York, you can probably develop a plan to move from the Grand Central Hyatt into the wilderness that is the Hudson Valley. 

6.  Leave your selfie stick at home. This is New York, someone may beat you with it if you use it. 

7.  Don’t sit in the middle of the three seater and try to have a conversation with your friend three seats in front of you.  Remember that selfie stick, it may get used again 

8.  Do not discuss loudly or really at any volume hot button issues with friends. If we cared what you thought you wouldn’t be heading north with every worldly possession you own in a backpack destined for the Appalachian Trail to “find yourself” among nature’s wonder.  My only wonder is why you are still talking. 

9.  Please use your headphones. No one wants to hear your favorite Nelly song or the audio of your mom’s Yorkie reciting the Periodic Table of Elements. Your dog is just barking. He did not just say Boron. 

Safe travels!

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.

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.

There is no prize for being first to your car

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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.

I want to sleep at Penn Station

I do.  I really do.  And, it is not because I want to end up on the peopleofpennstation Instagram account.

There was a time when you could walk into Penn Station, check in to your room, and the next morning, wake up in Washington DC.  Yes, on purpose.  From the railfan.net Penn Central page, a Penn Central timetable from 1969 notes that at 10:30p sleeping cars for Train 177 “open for occupancy.” The sleeping car would then be added to a train from Boston heading south.

Schedule - Penn Central 1969

And, for $16.25 you get your own private bedroom.  That’s a bit more than $100 in 2014.

Sleeping Car Fares

This type of service lasted into the 1990’s (h/t to my friends @Metroland for the info)

Nowadays, there are no sleepers at Penn Station.  But, there should 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.

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.

Airheads

The year was 1978.  New York City wanted to make it easier to get people from Manhattan to JFK.  So, they shined up some subway cars, recorded a catchy jingle and the JFK Express was born.  Millions each year flew in and out of the airport.  Surely, some would use the service.  And, that was the problem.  Only some did.  At its peak, “4,000 to 5,000” riders used the service, with the number dipping to “3,200” when NYC Transit decided to discontinue the line.  Plus, “47 percent of riders” were commuters from its terminus in Queens.  So, that’s like 1,600 riders per day specific to the airport.

Now, the latest train to the plane is the proposed new PATH line to Newark Airport. Reports say it could move – trumpets please – about “6,000” airport goers each day! 6,000 per day is the same amount of people that ride NJT daily from Princeton Junction.  And, all of this excitement for just $1.5 Billion with construction to commence in 2018.  Governor Christie is a fan.  And, we all thought Chris hated trains. I mean he screwed hundreds of thousands of commuters each day when he pulled NJ out of the ARC tunnel project. But, apparently his love of trains is because he likes airplanes more, especially if they fly out of Atlantic City.  He’s so complex.

After listening to the old JFK Express advertisement, I may have found another reason why Governor Christie is a fan of the PATH extension.  This could be an opportunity to revive that jingle.  The Governor is fan of catchy jingles.