Metro-North screeches to a halt [Connecticut Post]

January 27, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

All Metro-North trains across New York and Connecticut were stopped in their tracks for about two hours Thursday night, and the Danbury Branch remained stalled even longer, because of a power interruption to the computer system used to control the trains.

Computer problem occurred around 8 p.m., leaving thousands of passengers stranded across the tri-state area. Passengers were told to seek alternate transportation from stations or wherever their trains came to a halt.

By about 9:45 p.m., Metro-North reported that the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines were back in service, meaning that passengers going to and from Brewster, N.Y., were able to move, although riders faced significant delays.

But in a phone interview around 9:45, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said trains remained stopped at the Branchville, Redding and Bethel stations, and that it was taking longer to get that branch back into service.

Anders said the incident was under investigation.

“We don’t know the source yet,” she said. “It’s a localized issue. The terminal didn’t have a blackout. The control room didn’t have a blackout. We had a power issue to the computer. So we’re not pointing fingers at Con-Ed now.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said his staff had been communication with Metro-North officials about the latest service disruption, but he said they had not given him a cause.

“I’ve heard from some very irate stranded passengers,” Blumenthal said by phone Thursday night. “This incident will understandably be seen as another sign of a broken system.”

One longtime Metro-North employee who lives in Fairfield County and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the entire system had never been shut down before, as far as he recalled.

“This is a first,” the employee said. “It doesn’t make you feel good.”

This story was still developing late Thursday. Readers can visit for updated information.

Metro-North officials tried to assure the public that staff would fix the problem quickly on Thursday. But the shutdown was the second major incident in as many days for the railroad.

On Wednesday, more than 200 passengers were stranded in frigid temperatures in Westport, when a set of ancient wires broke.

“It was a section where the wires are 100 years old,” Anders said Thursday. “It was cold, so they get brittle and they broke.”

Anders said the railroad quickly dispatched a rescue train from New Haven, but as it rumbled toward the area, that train encountered its own problem. A switch that would allow the rescue train to roll up alongside the stranded cars had become jammed with snow and ice.

The solution was decidedly old-fashioned: railroad crews had to dig it out by hand, leaving the stuck passengers aboard the train for another hour.

“It took an hour longer than it should,” Anders said.

In an interview Thursday with Hearst Connecticut Newspapers — before the railroad’s nighttime shutdown — U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said Connecticut is treated like an “ugly stepchild” compared to New York when it comes to service on Metro-North Railroad.

Thursday night’s shutdown was the latest in a string of high-profile incidents the railroad has weathered in the past year in Connecticut and New York. The stretch included two derailments, at least two fatal collisions and a power outage that paralyzed service between southwestern Connecticut and New York City for days last fall.

Earlier Thursday, passengers took to Twitter to vent about Wednesday’s night’s power problems, and state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who is exploring a run for governor, said the railroad needs new management in the form of an oversight board.

“Obviously, the people who are there lack the competence to do things right,” Boucher said.

Metro-North’s infrastructure problems have drawn intense scrutiny in Connecticut, where the trains are electrically powered. When a massive power outage knocked out service on part of the New Haven Line in September, the cause was determined to be a 36-year-old power cable. The railroad is reportedly decades behind on maintenance and would need millions of dollars to get up to speed.