Category Archives: Metro-North

Metro-North Orders Many New M8 Rail Cars

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board has approved an order for at least 60, and up to a total of 94, additional new M8 rail cars for the Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line, officials announced.

The cars, the first of which are expected to enter service in three years, will allow the railroad to lengthen rush hour trains, retire its last 36 older M2 cars, increase safety, and have flexibility to increase train service in the years ahead to meet ridership increases. The cars will supplement the 405 M8 cars already in use on the New Haven Line and New Canaan Branch.

“The approval of these additional railcars will improve service for commuters throughout the region on the nation’s busiest commuter rail line,” said Gov. Dannel Malloy in a statement. “For decades, we as a state and nation have failed to make investments in transportation a top priority – and we have witnessed the results with failing roadways and aging public transportation systems. But today we are taking a new approach. Through actions like today’s, we are showing the public that investments in infrastructure must be made to continue the level of service the public, and our economy, have come to depend on. If we want to remain competitive, giving our residents and businesses the best chance to prosper, we must continue to make desperately needed investments across our entire transportation infrastructure.”

The order consists of a base order of 60 cars and an option for an additional 34 cars. The base order is expected to include the retrofit of 10 existing M8 cars into café cars.

Added Connecticut Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker, “We appreciate this vote of confidence in our rail investment strategy. Connecticut commuters can look forward to the extremely high reliability of these cars and increased service on the New Haven Line. I want to thank the MTA Board for this prompt action on our request.”

From an MTA press release:

The M8 cars have improved customer satisfaction levels and have achieved very high mechanical reliability, far in excess of expectations. Additionally, the new M8 are designed to be enabled with Positive Train Control from the time they enter service. Through September, the cars are averaging 460,277 miles between mechanical breakdowns, the best rate for New Haven Line cars in decades and 53% above the railroad’s goal for the cars.

The M8 cars are the most technologically sophisticated in Metro-North’s fleet. They have third rail shoes that can receive 700- to 750-volt direct current to power the trains between Pelham and Grand Central Terminal, and the capability to run under two types of alternating current from overhead wire, known as catenary. The New Haven Line and its New Canaan Branch use 60 cycle, 12.5 kilovolt power. The cars can also operate at the higher, 60 cycle, 25 kilovolt power, which is used on the Shore Line East route east of New Haven.

Three hundred eighty of the current cars are in permanently coupled pairs; each pair’s “A” car has 110 seats and each “B” car has 101 seats plus a handicapped-accessible, airline-style vacuum toilet and space for wheelchair seating or bicycles to be stored on wall-mounted hooks.

Each row of seats is outfitted with electrical outlets, grab bars, coat hooks and overhead luggage racks. The color scheme is a vibrant red, the historical color of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, a predecessor to Metro-North. Outside, customers see prominent electronic destination signs and hear public address announcements from external speakers. Single leaf doors provide high reliability and less susceptibility to snow intrusion.

The existing M8 cars, like the rest of Metro-North’s fleet, are being upgraded to enable them to operate with enhanced Positive Train Control, a safety system designed to reduce the risk of human error contributing to derailments or collisions caused when a train travels too fast into a curve, onto tracks already occupied by another train, or through a misaligned switch. The existing cars are also being retrofitted to include security cameras in engineers’ cabs and in the customer areas of the trains. The new M8 cars will not need to be retrofitted, they will come enabled with cameras and Positive Train Control equipment when they are delivered to the railroad.

The M8 coach cars for use on the New Haven Line are funded 65 percent by the State of Connecticut and 35 percent by the MTA Capital Program. M8 café cars are funded entirely by the State of Connecticut.

Work to build the M8 cars was initiated in August 2006, when the MTA and Connecticut placed an initial base order for 300 cars with Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc. The first eight M8 cars entered service on March 1, 2011.

Since the initial order for the cars, New Haven Line ridership growth has been at or above the high end of expectations, and the railroad has responded with significant service increases every year since 2012. The M8 car fleet size has grown to meet increasing ridership and service levels. The initial contract contained two options for additional cars. The first contract, for 42 cars, and the second, for 38, were both exercised early in 2011. Then in July of that year, the MTA and Connecticut Department of Transportation agreed to amend their contract with Kawasaki to order an additional 25 M8 cars configured not as permanently coupled pairs, but as unpowered single cars, bringing the railroad to today’s total of 405 cars. Today’s announcement reflects a second amendment to the contract, and will bring the total number of M8 cars in existence to 465, or up to 499 if the option is exercised.

The M8 cars are manufactured in Lincoln, Nebraska; final testing takes place in New York and Connecticut.

Metro-North to implement ‘close call’ reporting system

MTA Metro-North Railroad, various labor unions and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently signed a memorandum of understanding describing the core principles and values for implementing an anonymous close call reporting system.

A partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the FRA, the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) is designed to encourage workers to report any potential safety hazards or breaches of procedures they see, MTA officials said in a press release.

Through the system, NASA receives the details of an incident through an online form. The agency then removes identifying information before sharing news of the safety preach with a peer review team comprising FRA representatives, Metro-North and labor unions.

“This program confirms how much we depend on our employees to detect potential risks to our operations,” said Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti. “They are the eyes and ears of Metro-North and we appreciate their contribution to making the system run safely and efficiently.”

Other railroads currently using C3RS include MTA Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and Strasburg Rail Road. Reporting results from each railroad provide the chance to see industrywide trends in close call incidents and use the information to prevent similar or more serious incidents from occurring, MTA officials said.

In April 2015, Metra’s management signed a similar memorandum of understanding committing to implementing the new system.

Metro-North is the first commuter railroad to implement the system with all operations workers throughout its entire network, MTA officials said.

Schumer protects funding for East Side Access, 2nd Ave. subway

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that he had stopped a Republican proposal in Congress that would have stopped work on the East Side Access project and the Second Avenue subway.

The U.S. House of Representatives proposal would have cut funding on the East Side Access by 47 percent and reduced money for the Second Avenue subway by 21 percent, Schumer said.

Schumer fought against the proposed cuts in a congressional conference and managed to restore the funding to make sure work continues on both projects.

“East Side Access is a transformative infrastructure project that employs thousands of New Yorkers and will shave off commute times for tens of thousands of commuters from Long Island,” Schumer said. “While the cuts passed in the House put the project on life support, I am pleased that we were able to beat back these cuts and keep the project moving forward.”

The East Side Access will bring Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal and the Second Avenue subway will relieve critical crowding on the Lexington Avenue line, which carries 40 percent of all subway passengers in New York City.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

Plan to Build Tower at Grand Central in Exchange for Transit Upgrades Is Approved

The New York City Council voted on Wednesday to approve plans for a developer to build a 63-story office tower just west of Grand Central Terminal in exchange for $220 million in transit upgrades.

Plans for the skyscraper, called One Vanderbilt, have been at the center of long-running negotiations to improve the bustling subway station at Grand Central, particularly on the overcrowded 4, 5 and 6 trains on the Lexington Avenue subway line.

As part of the deal, the developer, SL Green Realty, will build new subway entrances as well as a pedestrian plaza at street level, a public hall in the building’s lobby and other upgrades.

The approach has been viewed by some proponents as a model for how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can pay for some projects as it grapples with a $14 billion shortfall in the agency’s $32 billion proposed capital plan. The authority’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, has called on state and city officials for more money.

About two-thirds of the $220 million will go toward easing congestion on the 4, 5 and 6 trains, said Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick, who helped develop the plan. Mr. Garodnick said riders who use those subways routes must deal with packed trains and delays, which are often caused by bottlenecks at Grand Central.

“Trains stall within the station as crowds enter and exit, creating delays throughout the whole system,” Mr. Garodnick said.

On Wednesday, as part of the deal, the Council approved zoning changes that were needed for the office tower to move forward. The changes allow for new, taller office buildings on the five-block stretch of Vanderbilt Avenue. Mayor Bill de Blasio has supported the rezoning plan, and Carl Weisbrod, the chairman of the Planning Commission, has said the city would work with local officials on a plan for the broader East Midtown area.

A failed plan by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to rezone the area around Grand Central faced criticism from community groups who were concerned about worsening congestion.

SL Green said construction on the 1,501-foot-tall building would begin soon with the demolition of the site at 42nd Street and Vanderbilt. The tower and the infrastructure upgrades are expected to be finished by 2021, the company said.

The money will pay for a series of fixes to keep riders moving, including broader spaces for them to pass through to reach trains and smaller stairwells to create more space on platforms. SL Green will also pay for direct connections beneath the tower to the subway, the Metro-North Railroad and eventually the Long Island Rail Road, which will stop in Grand Central after the authority’s East Side Access Project is complete.

As part of the agreement, SL Green must finish the public improvements before tenants can occupy the upper floors of the building.

The investor who owns Grand Central, Andrew S. Penson, has opposed plans for the office tower. He has argued that the agreement would be a “massive giveaway” to a big real estate company.

Officials at the transportation authority have praised the transit improvements for the Lexington Avenue line, which carries more than one million passengers each weekday. The long-planned Second Avenue subway is intended to ease some of the strain on the 4, 5 and 6 trains, but the first phase is not expected to open until at least the end of next year.

Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority, said on Wednesday that the project would improve conditions at Grand Central and “prepare it for future growth.”

Transit advocates have also applauded the Grand Central deal, saying it served as a test case for incentive plans in which developers pay for transit improvements in exchange for permission to build.

Gene Russianoff, the staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group, called commuting on the Lexington Avenue line one of the “most grueling human activities in New York.”

“It couldn’t be more desperately needed,” he said of the improvements. “The 4, 5, and 6 are just heavily, heavily used.”

Commuter train slams into SUV on tracks, killing 6 people

A crowded commuter train slammed into a sport utility vehicle on the tracks at a suburban New York crossing and burst into flames, killing seven people,
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A crowded commuter train slammed into a sport utility vehicle on the tracks at a suburban New York crossing and burst into flames, killing six people, seriously injuring more than a dozen others and sending hundreds of passengers scrambling for safety, authorities said. The collision involved a Metro-North Railroad train and a Jeep Cherokee on Tuesday evening in Valhalla, about 20 miles north of New York City. Authorities said the impact was so forceful the electrified third rail came up and pierced the train.

Killed were the SUV’s driver and five people aboard the train, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. He said the number train passengers killed in the accident dropped from six to five during an appearance Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.” He did not give a reason for the change in the number of passengers killed.

Cuomo also says that 15 people were injured, seven of them seriously.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said the front part of the train was “completely charred and burned.”

“I am amazed anyone got off that train alive. … It must have been pure panic, with the flames, the third rail and the smoke,” he said.

Authorities said the SUV’s driver had gotten out of her vehicle momentarily after the crossing’s safety gates came down around her. She then got back in and was trying to drive forward when she was hit, they said.

The northbound Metro-North Railroad train left Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan around 5:45 p.m. and struck the SUV about 45 minutes later.

It was unclear how fast the train was going, but the maximum would be 60 mph, a railroad official said.

The train shoved the SUV about 10 train car lengths. Smoke poured out of the scorched front rail car, its windows blackened.

“This is a truly ugly and brutal site,” said Cuomo, who called the crash the railroad’s most deadly.

Witnesses said they saw the flames shooting from where the crash occurred, in a wooded area near a cemetery.

Ryan Cottrell, assistant director at a nearby rock climbing gym, said he had been looking out a window because of an earlier, unrelated car accident and saw the train hit the car, pushing it along.

“The flames erupted pretty quickly,” he said.

Passengers described a bump and said they smelled gasoline from the vehicle.

Around 650 passengers likely were aboard the train, including Justin Kaback, commuting home to Danbury, Connecticut.

“I was trapped. You know there was people in front of me and behind me, and I was trapped in the middle of a car and it was getting very hot,” he told ABC News. “All the air was turned off so there was no circulation so it was definitely scary especially when people are walking by on the outside and they said, ‘The train’s on fire. There’s a fire.'”

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Passenger Stacey Eisner, who was at the rear of the train, told NBC News that she felt the train “jerk” and then a conductor walked through the train explaining what had happened. She said her train car was evacuated about 10 minutes later using ladders to get people out.

The other rail passengers were moved to the rear of the train so they could get off. Buses picked them up and took them to other stations.

All railroad grade crossings have gate arms that are designed to lift automatically if they strike something like a car on the way down, railroad safety consultant Grady Cothen said. The arms are made of wood and are designed to be easily broken if a car trapped between them moves forward or backward, he said.

Officials didn’t comment on whether the gates were working properly.

Rick Hope said he was stopped directly behind the SUV and said he started to back up to give her room, but instead she pulled forward.

Hope told WNYW-TV the crossing signals were working properly, and the gate was down and bells were ringing. He said the gate lowered and struck the SUV, and the woman got out looking a bit confused.

He said the woman “kind of” wiggled the gate. He said the SUV was at the track line when she pulled forward.

The National Transportation Safety Board said a team was being sent to investigate.

Metro-North is the nation’s second-busiest commuter railroad, after the Long Island Rail Road. It was formed in 1983 and serves about 280,000 riders a day in New York and Connecticut. Service on its Harlem Line was suspended between Pleasantville and North White Plains after the crash.

Metro-North has been criticized severely for accidents over the last couple of years. Late last year, the NTSB issued rulings on five accidents that occurred in New York and Connecticut in 2013 and 2014, repeatedly finding fault with the railroad while also noting that conditions have improved.

Among the accidents was a Dec. 1, 2013, derailment that killed four people, the railroad’s first passenger fatalities, in the Bronx. The NTSB said the engineer had fallen asleep at the controls because he had a severe, undiagnosed case of sleep apnea.

Last March, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a stinging report on Metro-North, saying it let safety concerns slip while pushing to keep trains on time. Railroad executives pledged to make safety their top priority.

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