Metro North riders are not happy

If Metro North officials are smart they won’t be passing out customer satisfaction surveys at the Fairfield Metro station.

Jack Fowler of Milford said it took him four hours to get home Thursday night, after his train was held up in Stamford for more than an hour. “There was a line of cars at the Stamford station, because people were calling relatives to come and pick them up.

“And they left the train doors open, so the inside of the train turned into a refrigerator,” Fowler said. “That was an idiotic move.”

Riders were coming up to Hearst CT Newspapers staff on Friday morning to complain about the service– not just the residual delays from last night’s power problem but a year’s worth of crashes, power failures and service interruptions.

“I’ve been riding the train for 30 years and this is the worst it has ever been,” an exasperated Karen Kelso said.

“They don’t have enough conductors to take tickets,” she said as she waited in the glass walkway above the tracks. “Think of all that revenue being lost.

“You could ride for free from here because no one is going to ask you for your ticket.

“There was a disturbance in one of the rear cars the other day but the conductor couldn’t go back and deal with it because by law he had to stay in the head car,” the Fairfield resident said.

“So you’re telling me that if someone has a gun in a rear car it’s too bad.”

Fowler, who catches the first train out of Milford in the morning, at 4:23 a.m., figures that he has spent the equivilent of two years of his life riding the train. “I have to say, all in all, that there haven’t been that many big incidents like last night.

“And what alternative do you have? Driving in to the city is a horror show,” said Fowler, the publisher of the National Review.

Eric Newman, a member of the town RTM from District 7, said the railroad’s aging infrastructure needs an infusion of federal aid to be brought back to standard.

“What happens in Washington affects people — and their jobs– in Connecticut,” Newman said. “You show up late for work too many times and you’re out of a job. You have to give them (Metro North Railroad) a little credit. They did go on their Facebook page last night to let people know what’s going on.”

But Mike Ertel, who recently began commuting all the way into New York City instead of Stamford, said the railroad is not particularly good at communicating.

“Yea, they’ll let you know if they’re running 10 or 15 minutes late, but last night when the entire system was shut down– nothing,” he said. “They were completely silent.”

Ertel and Gabe Borges, also of Fairfield, said the New Haven Line trains will usually get to Stamford on time, “but to Grand Central, forget it,” Borges said.

The regular commuter said he doesn’t feel that the railroad is always honest with riders. “Like today,”’ Borges said as he blew on his hands and stomped his feet to keep warm.

“The delays are supposed to be because of the cold weather, but its all because they got behind on maintenance.”

Metro North sends a newsletter to commuters holding monthly passes, “but I just throw that away,” Kelso said. “It doesn’t really tell you anything.”

The timetables aren’t worth much either, she said. “I can’t tell you the last time a train was actually on time,” the 30-year veteran rider said.

Riders griped that Metro North — like most passenger railroads — considers a train to be “on time” if it arrives or departs within a 10-minute window from what the timetable says.

“The schedule never seems to matter,” said Matt Kramer, who recently transferred to his company’s Stamford office from New York City. “There are just too many inconsistencies, and there are never any apologies. Sometimes they don’t even tell us what’s going on.”

Riders reactions to Metro North’s recent performance sound like a couple in the midst of a bad break-up. There are communication problems, a lack of honesty and their partner — the nation’s second-largest commuter railroad — has been unreliable and untrustworthy, they say.

“Most days they are running a little late,” Don Curley said as he waited for the 7:38 a.m. express. That train was running 10 to 15 minutes late, according to a message over the intercom.

A woman who would only give her first name — Monica — said New York riders seem to get better service. “On their web site Metro North gives an inch total for snow to affect train service in New York,” she said. “But on the New Haven Line it only says ‘significant snow.’ Who determines what is ‘significant’ is?’

Newman, the RTM member, gently suggested to her that the use of the third rail to draw power on the New York lines may affect how much snow the equipment can tolerate there.


Frank Juliano