Metro North Railroad Electrical Disaster


Image

Image

Top picture is a diesel train running because the electricity is out.

Bottom picture is no more: it was the New Haven Railroad’s Cos Cob coal-powered power station. The railroad used to make its own power before jumping in bed with Con Ed.

Partial service could be restored to Metro-North’s New Haven Line this weekend following a massive power failure on Wednesday that brought service to a crawl and clogged the highways, Gov. Dannel Malloy said during a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

A feeder cable serving an eight-mile portion of the New Haven Line’s electric fleet failed on Wednesday. The de-powered section includes four towns and four stations between Stamford and New York.

Malloy warned that repairs could take “as long as three weeks or more,” but said the MTA and power company, Con Edison, are working to restore partial energy to the line as early as Saturday.

He said the plan is to bring in three transformers to provide 13,000 kilowatts of energy to the track.

Con Edison officials said this is something they have not tried before and thier engineers are studying the process.

This is only a fraction of the normal 100,000 kilowatts that service the line, and authorities will conduct tests this weekend to determine the number of trains that can run on this limited-power system.

Malloy said he hopes to release an updated plan no later than Sunday so commuters can arrange their work weeks.

The governor said communication is vitally important and promised a “better protocol” going forward.

“We didn’t receive immediate notification yesterday morning,” he said on Thursday, adding that this made it difficult to alert commuters.

Until the problem is solved, Metro-North is offering limited service on diesel trains, which can accommodate about 30 percent of the New Haven Line’s daily ridership.

Twenty-four diesel trains are now operating on the New Haven Line, according to the MTA. The line normally runs four diesel train sets.

One train is running per hour in both directions and commuters are expecting the commute to be long and crowded. The power problem primarily affects the Metro-North New Haven Line, so train service to and from the New Haven station is limited.

“We realize this is not nearly enough,” the MTA said in a statement on Thursday night. “Customers endured crowded conditions; longer travel times or had to seek alternate means of travel. It is, however, at this time the most service that can be offered in a safe and organized manner given that there is no power for an eight-mile section of the road.”

Malloy has also suspended all roadwork on Interstate 95 to keep traffic flowing during the Metro-North outage, and has offered to move Connecticut trains across the state line to help with increased traffic running through New York.

He encouraged the MTA to reimburse commuters riding the New Haven Line and said he hopes the repair work on a second feeder cable can be expedited to restore power by Oct. 7.

Currently, the maintenance work is scheduled to finish up on Oct. 14, but Malloy said that’s not soon enough.

Con Ed said it could take two to three weeks to repair the 138 kilovolt feeder cable that failed just after 5:20 a.m. Wednesday.The cable brings high voltage power from the Con Ed grid to the railroad’s overhead catenary wires, which power both Metro-North and Amtrak trains through the New Haven line corridor.

A second feeder cable was already out of service for repairs when the failure occurred, according to Con Ed and Metro-North. The railroad was performing upgrades to the power supply in that stretch of track, a spokeswoman said. Without the second feeder cable, Metro-North and Amtrak have resorted to diesel-powered trains running on the hour between Stamford, Conn. and Grand Central Terminal, severely limiting capacity for riders.

Amtrak, which runs over Metro-North’s tracks on the New Haven Line, also suffered “significant delays,” according to a service announcement posted later Wednesday morning. Acela express service was halted between Boston and New York. Some regional service was running, also using diesel-powered locomotives instead of electric locomotives, which draw power from catenary wires over the tracks. Delays from the reduced service radiated along the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak said, as far south as Washington, D.C.

Ms. Anders said the outage had occurred in an area where the railroad and the Connecticut Department of Transportation had been planning to increase the supply of electric power. The Connecticut DOT pays 65% of the operating expenses of the New Haven line.

Workers tried to find ways to restore some power to the crippled New Haven Line before commuters return on Monday, while New York environmental crews assessed a chemical spill at the Mount Vernon, N.Y., substation where the power failure originated, officials said Friday.

Wendy Rosenbach of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation said about 1,000 gallons of fluid — which is under pressure in the electric wires and is used as a coolant — leaked when the wires failed on Wednesday morning. The dielectric fluid does not contain PCBs.

Malloy also said Con Edison planed to test three transformers this weekend in the hopes of getting a portion of the electricity needed to the New Haven Line, Metro-North’s busiest line, which serves Connecticut and parts of suburban Westchester County. There is a good chance that Metro-North and the utility would be able to substitute some kind of power source to provide electrified catenary power to the Pelham, N.Y. through Rye, N.Y. stretch of track before one or the other feeder cable is fixed and put back in service.

In the wake of service problems in past years Metro-North officials have often noted that even with the arrival of the state’s fleet of new M-8 commuter rail cars the New Haven Line requires billions in long deferred investment is needed to modernize the rail line and ensure reliability.

David Hendricks, a member of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council said that he missed two important meetings Wednesday morning as a result of the sudden outage.

Hendricks said that the ability for any one power source to halt electric train service between a swath of track between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal was alarming.

“I’m surprised that there is a single point of failure for electricity serving Metro-North Railroad and that a cable could go out in one place and all service would be disrupted for 50 miles,” Hendricks said. “It’s surprising and also disconcerting.”

Hendricks said that the incident underlines the discussion of recent months about the need for greater investment to ensure the reliability and safety of the New Haven Line, calling the 70-mile railway the “economic lifeline to the region.”

“It’s just one more thing MTA and Metro-North has to deal with and it looks like the list is getting longer,” Hendricks said. “To me it begs more understanding about needing more investment because the more stress we put on the line the more likely things like this are going to happen. It can’t go down, and if it does go down, it has to be back up fast.”

Metro-North and utility company officials plan to throw the switch Saturday afternoon a jury-rigged system that would provide enough power for some electric trains to pass through a section of track knocked out earlier this week after a 138,000-volt feeder cable failed. The mishap brought train service on the nation’s second-busiest rail line to a virtual standstill.

Although there is light at the end of the tunnel for a temporary fix, several of Connecticut’s political leaders continue to insist the railroad work faster to bring service back to normal.

Over the past three days, Con Edison crews have worked feverishly to install three heavy-duty transformers near the Harrison, N.Y., station that will draw power from the local neighborhood and convert it for use by the railroad.

“What we’ve sought to do is almost build another substation overnight,” Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee said Friday. “The idea is to get power that Metro-North can use as quickly as possible.”

That power will replace what was lost when a large feeder cable for the railroad’s electricity gave out early Wednesday in Mount Vernon, N.Y., setting off three days of travel chaos.

The temporary system will provide less than 10 percent of the normal power to the line, but Metro-North believes that should be enough to get at least one electric train through the affected area every 15 minutes. Officials said they will have an idea if the fix is working by Sunday night.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s