Metro-North: "We Sincerely Regret This Incident"

Friday, Jan 24, 2014  |  Updated 1:30 PM EDT
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Signal problems stalled service along the Hudson Harlem and New Haven lines Thursday night causing some delays Friday morning

Audrey Washington, Steve Pancione

Signal problems stalled service along the Hudson Harlem and New Haven lines Thursday night causing some delays Friday morning

The day after human error caused Metro-North service between New York and Connecticut to be halted for nearly two hours due to signal problems, Connecticut officials are expressing their frustration and outrage. Now, Metro-North is admitting that work done last night should not have been done while thousands of people were trying to get home on a cold night.

“The power outage on the New Haven Line last evening was totally avoidable and frankly, unfathomable given that it occurred due to inappropriate actions on the part of Metro-North,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a statement on Friday morning.

MTA officials issued a statement saying the computers that run the railroad’s signal system lost power at 7:45 p.m. when one of two main power supply units was taken out of service for replacement. Technicians performing the work did not realize that a wire was disconnected on the other main power supply unit and it "destabilized the power supply system" until a backup supply was connected.

“On behalf of the thousands of Connecticut citizens who rely on this crucial rail service every day, I am outraged that any maintenance procedure would be performed on the signal control system during the peak evening commuter period,” Malloy said.

There were more than 50 trains on all three lines when the incident happened and rail traffic controllers instructed all engineers to bring their trains to the nearest station.

"This had to be done slowly, train-by-train, to ensure everyone’s safety. Trains were not allowed to proceed through switches until signal maintainers could respond and manually ensure the switches were lined up correctly," according to a statement from MTA.

The repairs were made by 9 p.m., but the computers needed to reboot before trains could run again, according to MTA,

Trains started moving by 9:30 p.m., but full control over the signal system was not re-established until 10:30 p.m. and there were significant delays continued throughout the evening hours, according to MTA.

Metro-North is a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and is under a contract with the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Malloy said he spoke with MTA CEO Tom Prendergast in a telephone call this morning.

“I expressed my anger and frustration in a call this morning with MTA CEO Tom Prendergast, asked him for a full explanation and an action plan to prevent any recurrence, and also requested that the MTA hire a third-party, independent authority who can serve as an advisor when crucial maintenance decisions like these are made.  I have also asked for a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Prendergast and the incoming President of Metro-North, Joe Giullietti, as soon as Mr. Giullietti starts in his new position,” Malloy said.

MTA is now saying this project should have been "analyzed for risks and redundancy before it began." 

They also said the work should have been done in the middle of the night over a weekend, "not when thousands of customers were trying to get home in cold weather."

MTA is conducting an internal review and bringing in an independent consultant to review the incident, determine why the mistakes were made and to recommend any necessary changes to operating procedures and practices.

"Metro-North customers deserve better.  We sincerely regret this incident and apologize for the inconvenience our customers experienced," a statement from MTA says.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes called the recent Metro-North problems “unacceptable.  

"Metro North's string of accidents and delays is simply unacceptable. From the recent dangerous crashes and derailments to yesterday's infuriating delays -- and especially the lack of information given to passengers stranded on trains between stations for hours  -- Metro North needs to reassess its priorities and operations,” Himes said.

The electrical problem on Tuesday is a “demonstration of the cost of not investing in our transportation infrastructure,” he said, but the problem goes beyond money.

“This is no way to run a railroad. Individuals lose valuable time, we as a society lose productivity, and businesses lose money when the trains don't run on time,” Himes said.

The Congressman said he spoke with Permut last night and expressed frustrations and the urgent needed to handle this matter.

“I look forward to hearing from Metro North on how they plan to keep riders better informed during what should be infrequent disruptions of service and how they plan to improve the safety of this essential transit system,” Himes said.
 

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