Monday, December 26, 2016

Why Metro-North's Quiet Cars Aren't Quiet

What happens when a good idea goes bad?  Consider Metro-North’s “Quiet Car” initiative.
Sixteen years ago a group of regular commuters on Amtrak’s early morning train to DC had an idea:  why not designate one car on the train as a “Quiet Car”, free from cell phone chatter and loud conversations.  The railroad agreed and the experiment proved a great success.  Now all Amtrak trains in the Northeast Corridor have a Quiet Car.  They are a major selling point for taking the train… the chance to nap or read in a quiet environment.
But as early as 2006 when I suggested the same idea to Metro-North it was rejected outright.  Then serving on the CT Rail Commuter Council, I persisted and finally, in 2011 the railroad agreed to a trial with one car on each rush hour train dedicated to what it called a “Quiet CALMmute”.
Almost immediately the plan ran into trouble.  Not because it wasn’t wanted but because it wasn’t enforced.
There were no signs designating which were the “quiet” cars and only occasional PA announcements before departure reminding folks who sat there of the quiet, library-like environment that was expected.  Most of all, many conductors refused to enforce the new rules.  But why?
Conductors seem to have no trouble reminding passengers to keep their feet off the seats, put luggage in the overhead racks or refrain from smoking.  But all that the railroad gave conductors to enforce the Quiet Car rules were bilingual “Shhh cards” to give to gabby violators.
It seemed left to passengers to remind fellow riders what a Quiet Car was for and confrontations resulted.
This spring the railroad surprised even me by announcing an expansion of the program:  every weekday train, peak and off-peak, would now have two Quiet Cars!  Two Quiet Cars on a ten car train gives everyone a choice.  That sounds great, but still without signage, education or enforcement, the battles continued.

A commuter recently emailed me about an evening train from Grand Central with a group of rowdy drunks in the Quiet Car.  When commuters asked the offending passengers to chill out or move their seat the tipsy  group told the complainer, “screw you”.  The quiet-seeking commuters then asked the conductor for help but he simply declared the train was too crowded and the Quiet Car was being eliminated on that run. “Have fun” he told the drunks. Really?
On Amtrak trains those violating Quiet Car rules have been thrown off the train and arrested.  Even NJ Governor Chris Christie had to move his seat on an Acela once for yabbering with his staff in the wrong car.
Nobody wants these kinds of altercations on Metro-North.  So why initiate and then expand such a passenger amenity as Quiet CALMmute without proper education and enforcement?  A few signs and friendly reminders from conductors should make passengers aware that “train time may be your own time” (as the railroad’s old marketing slogan used to say), but it’s also shared time. 
Commuters want Quiet Cars.  The railroad gave them to us, but until they can get their staff to enforce the rules, consistently, they might as well not exist.

If you’re in a Quiet Car and the rules are not enforced, report it to Metro-North on their website complaint form.  If we all raise our voices, we can get some peace a quiet.
Reprinted with permission from Hearst CT Media

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Winter Prep for Transportation

With the arrival of winter, now is the time to be sure you’re ready to stay mobile, whatever Mother Nature may throw at us.  Here are a few tips…

1)     Get your car’s battery checked.  If it is weak or the terminals are corroded you won’t be able to start your car, especially in cold conditions.  New batteries are worth the investment, if only for the peace of mind.

2)    Check your tires.  Colder weather means the pressure in your tires will go down so check your car’s manual and re-inflate if necessary.

3)    Got antifreeze?  It should be replaced every two years to a 50-50 mixture with water.

4)    Oil change:  as with your tires, lower temperatures will affect your engine’s “blood”, thickening it as it gets colder.  Your mechanic or oil-change shop will know what’s right for your car.  And forget that old myth of oil changes every 3000 miles:  5000 to 7500 miles between changes is now OK according to experts.

5)    Windshield wipers should be replaced annually, an easy do-it-yourself project at any auto store.  And don’t forget to fill the wiper fluid reservoir with something freeze resistant.

6)    Be a Boy Scout and check your trunk for an inflated spare tire and all the emergency gear you might need:  flares, jumper cables, first aid kit, thermal blanket, etc.

Except in the worst blizzard conditions, the train will usually keep running (though sometimes at a reduced frequency). Though dependable, riding Metro-North and Amtrak in the winter is not without its challenges

1)    Never assume it’s “business as usual” and that trains will be running on time in bad weather.  Listen to the radio and consult apps like the MTA’s “TrainTime” and my favorite, “Clever Commute” for updates on service.

2)    Give yourself extra time to get to the station and watch those icy platforms! 

3)    Dress for the bad weather.  If your station’s waiting room isn’t open, call town hall or the police dept.  In sub-zero weather that’s not just an inconvenience, it could be a safety hazard.

4)    If you find a railcar that’s lacking heat, ask the conductor to write it up.  Or use the website to file a report yourself.

5)    Most of all, give yourself extra travel time.  Don’t stress about delays.  At least you’re not driving on an icy parkway!

1)    When booking your flight consider your options.  If you can’t find a non-stop, avoid connections in weather-plagued hubs like Chicago or Denver.  Charlotte or Dallas have less chance of being snowed in.

2)    Watch the weather and anticipate delays.  If the airlines know a storm is coming they often waive re-booking fees if you want to fly before the weather hits or have to delay until after the airport re-opens and schedules get back to normal.

3)    If the highways are a mess, try taking the train to the airport.  LaGuardia and Newark are accessible by Metro-North and Amtrak, respectively, but Kennedy airport is a challenge.
Whatever your mode of travel, a little prep time now will help you get through winter unscathed.

Reprinted with permission of Hearst CT Media

More Railcars, More Passengers

Riders on Metro-North just got an early holiday gift from the railroad and CDOT:  a bright, shiny new train set… not toy, but real!   We’ve been promised 94 more M8 rail cars!  And just in time…(though they won’t start arriving until 2019).

We’ve been enjoying the new M8 cars since their introduction in 2011 and they have proven highly reliable.  Unlike the old M2 cars, many of which were older than the passengers who rode in them and were prone to breakdowns each winter, the new M8 cars are champions.  They go over 460,000 miles between mechanical breakdowns which is 53% better than the railroad’s own goals for the Kawasaki designed and built cars.

Work on the M8’s started in 2006 with an initial order of 300 cars.  Another 80 cars were optioned in 2011 and 25 more single, unpowered cars were then added to the fleet, bringing us to the 405 cars we have today. (When the newest cars start arriving in three years the last of the old M2 cars will finally be scrapped).

Because of their unique design, operating on three different power systems, the M8 cars were not cheap. The first cars cost $2.326 million but Kawasaki is now commanding $3.83 million for the 60 now on order and $3.71 million for another 34 cars on option.  Part of the price hike is attributed to improved design and addition of the long-awaited PTC (Positive Train Control) and CCTV (closed circuit TV) safety equipment.

The costs will be born 65% / 35% by Connecticut and MTA, respectively.  Our share will probably be paid for through bonding. Ten planned “CafĂ© Cars”, to be fabricated from older, original M8 cars, will be 100% paid for by Connecticut.

Why is the railroad going to all of this expense?  Because they became victims of their own success:  ridership has been soaring in recent years.

When the first M8 cars were ordered, Metro-North thought they’d have enough cars to handle ridership until 2020. But we blew through those numbers years early.  That meant more passengers than seats and crowded, often times SRO (standing room only) conditions at rush hour.

Why the surge in ridership?  A stronger economy, which means more jobs in NYC.  Worsening traffic on I95, which means the train is an attractive alternative.  Reliability, even in the winter.  And yes, people really like the new cars with their power plugs at every row, redundant HVAC and pleasing design.

All of those attractions have seemed stronger than the negatives to train-taking:  lower gas prices, higher rail fares and insufficient station parking.   
So the question now is, are we ordering enough new cars to keep up with demand?  Given the three year lag-time between ordering and delivery, will a 499-car fleet be enough if ridership keeps growing as fast, if not faster?

As new cars start arriving in 2019 they’ll first be used to add capacity to existing trains to deal with rush-hour crowding.  As more cars arrive, 24 of our M8’s will be shifted over to Shore Line East service between New London and New Haven.  And maybe, if we’re lucky, by 2020 we’ll have enough cars to actually increase service, adding more trains to the timetable.

If we don’t want to waste billions of dollars on Governor Malloy’s idea to “widen I-95”, let’s instead invest in our railroad and order more cars now.

Reprinted with permission of Hearst CT Media

"Slow Down In Town"

You’ve seen the signs in many neighborhoods… “Drive like your kids lived here” or “Slow down in town”.  They’re probably as effective as bumper stickers that say “Drive now, Text later”, i.e., not very.

In our own neighborhoods we want everyone to chill behind the wheel.  But when we are driving in someone else’s area, it’s pedal to the metal, the kids be damned.  When the major roads are jammed, quicker short-cuts through the back roads seem attractive, often at higher speeds than may be safe.

First of all, why is it that kids are playing in the streets anyway when they have perfectly good lawns and nearby parks?  Do they think they’re living on the Lower East Side, playing stickball?  C’mon parents!  Get your kids off of the streets!

Recognizing that persuasion doesn’t seem to help, traffic engineers are finding newer ways to get folks to stay safe using what’s called “traffic calming”, forcing them to drive slower.  And believe it or not, one of the first US cities to develop a master plan for traffic calming was Hartford.  Stamford isn’t far behind.

You’ve probably seen these calming devices, but cursed their presence that physically forces you to slow down or risk damage to your car’s suspension.

SPEED BUMPS:     You can’t drive around them, so you better slow down driving over them.

SPEED TABLES:    Like speed bumps on steroids, these have a six foot long ramp up onto a ten foot flat table and down another six foot ramp.

ROUNDABOUTS:   The guys at Mythbusters have proven that these traffic circles can move more cars through an intersection than a four-way stop, but they’re confusing enough that you’re going to slow down and keep wondering “Who has the right of way?  (Answer:  the car in the traffic circle).  If it’s me, does that other guy know it?  Will he slow down and let me in?” 

CHICANES:            Usually seen only on private streets in ritzy neighborhoods, these stubby looking sections of gates placed alternately on the right and left hand sides of the street make drivers slow down to zigzag down the street.  Really annoying, but effective.

BULB-OUTS or NECK-DOWNS:  These are when the sidewalk extends into car parking areas at corner crossings.  That way folks who want to cross a street are more visible and already closer to the other side.

CROSSWALKS:      Nothing empowers a pedestrian like stepping up to a crosswalk and stopping all oncoming traffic as they saunter across the road.  This assumes, of course, that the drivers know they must yield and that there is sufficient signage to tell them so.  Otherwise, it’s a messy scene.

But believe it or not, one of the most effective safety devices is also the most common…

SIDEWALKS:          Still, it’s amazing how many suburban towns don’t offer sidewalks, leaving nervous pedestrians walking on the same roadways as cars.  You’d think that would encourage motorists to slow down, but it doesn’t.  Getting the walkers (and joggers) off the road and onto the sidewalks may not stop speeding but it does save lives.

None of these physical solutions to traffic safety is cheap, but they have proven effective in saving us from our own worst instincts to rush to our destination.  So, slow down in town, and in the ‘burbs.  What’s your hurry?

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"All Tickets Please!"

Imagine you’re in a store and you see somebody shoplifting.  You’re embarrassed to say anything or to make a scene, but inside you’re pissed-off.  You pay for your merchandise, so why should that guy get it for free?  And if he’s ripping off the store, doesn’t the merchant actually make you pay more to make up for that loss?

It’s morally wrong and it’s just not fair.

Yet this is what happens every single day on Metro-North when conductors don’t collect all riders’ tickets.

Here’s a typical scene:  your train leaves Grand Central and the conductor makes his way through the train collecting tickets.  Sometimes he leaves a colored seat check, punched to show your destination, but not always. Why?

Your train makes some intermediate stop (New Rochelle, Greenwich or Stamford) to discharge some passengers and take on new ones.  You know who the new riders are, but does the conductor?

So when the conductor comes through again saying “All Stamford tickets, please” and you see that new rider not responding, you know the railroad got ripped off and that cheater just got a free ride.

Now, if the conductor had issued a seat check he’d know who got off, who got on and who owes him a new ticket.  Simple enough, but not for Metro-North which for years has not enforced their use.  Conductors who are too busy or too lazy, don’t use seat checks and we all end up paying more.

Metro-North acknowledges this problem and admits it loses millions of dollars a year to uncollected tickets.  But they’ve crunched the numbers and say that staffing trains with more conductors to be sure all tickets are collected would cost even more.

Hey!  Here’s a concept:  make the existing conductors do their jobs instead of hiding out in their little compartments.  From Grand Central to Stamford you’ve got 45 minutes without stops to collect everyone’s ticket, give ‘em a seat check, say “thank you” and still have time for a cat-nap.  And there’s still time to ask people to keep their feet off the seats and to stop yapping in the designated Quiet Cars.

Back in the good ol’ days before the TVM’s (Ticket Vending Machines) came along, conductors collected cash fares to the tune of $50 million a year.  They had a money room at Grand Central that looked like a casino.  Now most fares are bought from the machines or on your smart-phone.  That means conductors should have a lot more time to make sure all tickets are collected.

Conductors on Metro-North make good money.  And they do a very important job keeping passengers safe, operating the doors, answering questions.  They’re the face of the railroad and most passengers give them high marks.

So what can you do if you see someone getting a free ride due to uncollected tickets?  Try this, which always work for me:

When I see a conductor miss a passenger’s ticket, I’ll wait until the conductor comes back and say something like “Excuse me conductor.  I think you missed collecting that gentleman’s ticket”, and then smile innocently at the conductor and the chagrined would-be thief.

If I see the same conductor always missing ticket collections, day after day, I report it on the Metro-North website complaints page, detailing the incident by name, date, train number, etc.  That allows the railroad to “re-train” the offending staffer.

So if you’re tired of all these fare increases, let’s stop the shoplifters.  Make sure everybody pays for their ride by having conductors collect all tickets. Please!

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Should we widen I-95 ?

Governor Malloy wants to widen I-95 to alleviate traffic congestion and has commissioned a $1.2 million study to support the idea.   But I found a similar study from 2004 that looked at the idea and rejected it for a number of reasons.

Trust me, it wasn’t easy to get hold of the earlier study.  I knew it existed but somehow it had disappeared from the CDOT website.  And despite numerous requests, nobody at CDOT could ever tell me what they paid for this study!

Why are the Governor and CDOT re-studying the same issue and spending valuable tax dollars to do so?  Because the first study rejected their widening idea completely and they don’t like that answer.

Here’s the background:

When I-95 was built in the 1950’s it was designed to handle up to 90,000 vehicles a day.  Today, CDOT says it handles 150,000 and congestion is almost constant from 6 am – 7 pm, especially in southwest Connecticut.  In most sections the road is three lanes wide with a “breakdown lane” on both sides.

So, rather than widen the entire highway with a decade of massive and messy construction, why not use one of the lanes… probably the right shoulder… as a travel lane?  Wouldn’t that help reduce congestion?

No.  And here’s why…

NARROW LANES:     The right shoulder is only 10 feet wide so it could only be used by cars.  But the other three lanes are now 12 feet wide and would have to be permanently narrowed to 11 feet width, even outside of commuting-congested hours.

I feel nervous enough driving next to big-rigs and tandem trailers.  Do I want them a foot closer to me hurtling along at 70 mph?  Narrower lanes are not safe.

ACCIDENTS:          The 2004 study looked at other states that had tried using shoulders as travel lanes and found a 60% increase in traffic accidents, most of them rear-end collisions.

EMERGENCY RESCUES:    First responders hated this widening idea and said so at numerous public hearings (I was there and heard them).  They didn’t see the right shoulder as a “breakdown lane” but as an “emergency rescue lane” necessary to reach accident sites.  If that lane is filled with bumper-to-bumper commuters, people will die.

MORE TRAFFIC, NOT LESS:     The study said that allowing driving on the shoulder would actually attract 1050 additional vehicles per hour.  If you build it, they will come.

ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS:        More traffic means more noise and more air pollution.

SPEED IMPROVEMENTS:          The biggest argument for driving on the shoulder is that it would speed up traffic, right?  Wrong.  This 2004 study said that with an additional lane the average speed on I-95 would go from 27 mph to 31 mph, just a 15% improvement. Is that tiny speed increase worth all the safety and environmental costs?

So clearly, the idea of widening I-95 doesn’t make sense.  And we’ve already paid the expert consultants to study the idea and tell us so.

So why is the Malloy administration and CDOT paying for yet another study on a topic already examined and rejected?  Because they didn’t remember the other study had been done?  Or they couldn’t find it?  Or is it because this consultant will give them the answer they want to hear?

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Fall, leaves and locomotives

What is more beautiful than fall in New England?  The autumn leaves make even the most mundane daily commute seem idyllic… unless you’re taking the train.

Yes, it’s time for our annual battle against “slip slide”, that dangerous rail condition caused by wet leaves on our tracks.  Mind you, this is no small problem.  In past years as many as 50 or 60 trains a week were delayed by the issue when sloppy, wet leaves turn steel rails into the railroad equivalent of a skating rink: i.e., the trains can’t stop, or in some cases, even start.

OK.  We’ve sent a man to the moon, mapped the human genome and built super computers.  Why can’t we solve this leaf-goo problem?  If only it was that easy.

It’s really a matter of physics.  The flanged steel wheel of a locomotive only makes contact with the rail at a spot about the size of a dime.  That’s why a train can usually ride so smoothly, gliding on a very small but stable area of friction.

But when fall arrives, the leaves fall, get wet and get mulched into one of the slipperiest substances known to man, creating a compound called pectin.  When the train hits a slippery patch its computer freaks out like a skier going downhill encountering ice, and it tries to stop.  This is called “dumping the air”, as the train automatically drops its air pressure, engaging the brakes.  When it happens you can actually hear it… and feel it as the train lurches to a stop.

Don’t worry.  The train is not going to fly off the tracks.  But it also may not stop on a dime, sliding along the slippery track.  Sometimes the air brakes are engaged so hard that the steel wheel is dragged along the track and ground into a flat spot.  In some years these flat wheel issues have seen 25% of the railcar fleet out of action for regrinding.

This leaf-caused slip-slide is at its worst on the Danbury branch, an almost continual uphill climb from Norwalk to “The Hat City” which is almost 400 feet above sea level.  At its worst, the leafy goo means the diesel-pulled trains can’t make their usual stop at Cannondale because they have to keep up momentum to climb the grade.

On mainline MU (multiple unit) electric trains every car is a locomotive, spreading out the traction power to all the wheels.  But on a branch line train, a single locomotive weighing 137 tons has only eight wheels touching the track and needs enough traction there to pull an eight car train.  That’s just eight, dime-sized friction points, each compromised by slippery leaf-goo.

Now, if the Danbury branch was electrified, as it once was, this problem would go away, or at least be minimized.

What can be done to battle the slippery scourge?  Well, all trains carry sand which they can throw under their traction wheels, improving friction.  But Metro-North has gone further, creating a car called “Water World” which blasts the tracks clean with high pressure hoses.  And then the leaves keep falling.

This problem is not unique to Metro-North.  Other railroads fight the leaf-wars too, but few travel through such steep, wooded glens as the bucolic Danbury branch. 

In the UK there’s a scientist who proposes zapping the tracks clear with lasers.  Others are trying chemicals.  Clearly, people are working on this problem and have been for decades.

So take heart, dear commuter.  Enjoy the ride and the foliage, slippery as it may be.

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Toughest Job in Transportation: TSA Agent

Who do you think has the toughest job in the transportation business?  Long haul truckers?  Highway crews?  Metro-North engineers?

While all of those folks certainly pay their dues, to me the toughest job in transportation is being a TSA agent.

It’s been 15 years since 9/11 and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, creating a standardized, Federal version of the previously private security screening agents.  And the rules of what’s allowed on planes has certainly changed with time.

A couple of years ago the TSA said that small scissors and nail clippers would be allowed in carry-ons. People freaked, though the plastic knives distributed with snack-packs are already sharp enough to slit a throat.  But by not having to worry about such tiny tools, TSA agents should be able to spend more time looking for the really dangerous weapons.

How about ceramic knives, not found by metal detectors?  That’s why the TSA spent over $2 billion for full-body scanners.  Controversial as they may be, they seem efficient.

Liquid explosives are also frighteningly effective, which is why you should always drain your carry-on water bottle before joining the TSA line.  Free refills are available at the water fountains after clearing security.

This spring there were numerous complaints about the long lines at TSA check-points, a situation since resolved with better staffing and a new director of the agency.  A combination of increased passenger counts and TSA staffing seemed responsible for the delays.

But therein lies the reason that I think TSA agents have such a tough job:  the public wants 100% security but with no time-consuming, privacy-invading pat-downs or delays.  Sorry folks.  As the old adage says “You can have it fast, good or cheap… pick two”.

There are 47,000 TSA agents screening almost 2 million passengers a day.  It’s not a glamorous job (starting salary is just $26,000 a year), just a crucial one.  And yes, those agents do fail regular testing of their skills, allowing dummy knives and liquids to get by in the haste of doing their high pressure job.

But the stuff that they do find is astounding.  In a recent edition of its weekly blog the TSA recounts, for example, confiscating 58 firearms, 48 of them loaded with 17 having rounds in the chamber.  That’s not to mention the dozens of knives, swords and hidden weapons. And you wonder why the screening line gets slowed down?

On a recent trip I saw a passenger literally curse at a TSA agent for doing her job.  The agent kept her cool and didn’t yank the passenger out of line for a retaliatory body cavity search, but maybe she should have.  Could you be so patient as to not respond to such insults when you are only trying to keep passengers, even that idiot, safe?

When my carry-on bags get a secondary screening, I’m happy.  My bags carry so many weird electronics they’d better screen me!  After the agent finishes, I say “Thanks for your diligence.”

If you want to fly, my advice is to shut up.  Let the agents do their job.  And help them by following directions:  shoes off, laptops out, pockets empty.   Or registerfor TSA Pre-Check, a great screening time saver (you can leave you shoes on).

But please let the TSA agents do their job.  Asking them to hustle because you’re late for your flight is inviting them to make a mistake that might cost thousands of lives.

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Politicians and Promises

I don’t trust politicians.  They tend to over-promise and sometimes just plain lie, telling you what you want to hear and then doing the opposite.

I’m not talking about Clinton and Trump.  I mean right here in Connecticut where our State Representatives and State Senators are all up for election next month.  They’re all talking about “fixing transportation”, but I don’t trust them.

Case in point:  the upcoming fare hike which, amazingly, will take effect after the election.  Metro-North fares will jump 6% and CTtransit bus fares by 17%.  Nice timing, eh?  If they needed the money so bad, why not raise the fares before we go to the polls?

As I’ve been explaining for months, that fare hike was not created by the Governor, the CDOT or Metro-North, but necessitated by the majority Democrats’ budget passed last spring in the legislature.  They didn’t fully fund mass transit and left the Governor to raise the fares.

But what really galls me is to hear those same budget-writers come out in their campaigns and say they opposed the fare hike.  They created it, and now oppose it?  I think that’s called hypocrisy.

Or do you remember when Dannel Malloy was running for Governor in 2010 and he promised he would never, ever raid the Special Transportation Fund to balance the budget?  I do, and I admired him for that pledge.  So imagine how I felt when he did what every predecessor, Republican or Democrat, had done… turn the Special Transportation Fund into a petty cash box, raidable at will to fix his budget.  Was that a lie, a broken promise or a necessity?

Governor Malloy redeemed himself in his second term when he embraced transportation as his keynote agenda.  He didn’t just embrace it, he mated with it and produced an amorphous, amoeba-like off-spring:  a 30-year, $100 billion “plan” to rebuild transportation state-wide.

Well, it really wasn’t a “plan” as much as a laundry list, maybe a wish-list, with something for everyone… trains, planes, roads, rails, you name it.  It wasn’t just  ambitious, it was unaffordable.  So he did what any good politician would do who had an unfunded dream:  he appointed a task force to figure out how to pay for it.

He wanted the credit for this amazing, Robert Moses-like plan.  But he didn’t want his fingerprints on the stone tablets detailing how to pay for it.  I understand that.  “Love my vision but don’t blame me for the painful taxes required to build it.”

His task force came up with a lot of great funding ideas, all of them practical, none of them popular.  But what did legislators in both parties do?  They rejected them all, out of hand.
Even the Governor’s BFF Senator Bob Duff, the Senate Majority leader, said the Task Force’s idea of a vehicle miles tax was dead on arrival and would never be considered. And you can imagine the glee of Republicans in attacking the idea, a concept which nobody ever had a chance to explain let alone study before it was snuffed out.

To a man (and woman) every candidate will say they support transportation, but they will reject all of the necessary means of paying for it.   Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

So be an informed voter.  Ask for specifics, not generalities.  Ask exactly how your candidates will pay for their plans.  And compare those promises against past votes on things like the CDOT budget.

PS:  Lest you should think I have ambitions for higher office, I can reassure you I don’t want any job in Hartford.  The only thing I’m running for is the train.

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Staying Safe on the Train

“I’m afraid to get back on the train,” said the trembling woman, obviously shaken and possibly injured in the Hoboken terminal train crash of a NJ Transit train last month.

The shock of what she had seen was slowly sinking in and she was wondering how she was going to resume her life and its daily train commute after this horrific experience.

Whether it’s a derailment, collision or act of terrorism, riding the train is proving potentially perilous.

The Fairfield – Bridgeport collision and derailment in May of 2013 left 65 of the 250 passengers injured,  Months later. the Spuyten Duyvil derailment was even worse, killing four and injuring 61.  The recent Hoboken crash killed one and injured more than a hundred.
Physical injuries can heal, but emotional trauma may not.  And if you have to get from home to work each day, for many of us that means we must take the train.

Like those afraid of flying, at a certain point you have to relinquish control of your life to others… the engineer, the track workers, the control center… and hope they are all alert and doing their jobs.  But there are still a few things you can do to protect yourself.

It’s usually the front of the train that takes the most violent impact in a crash or derailment. So however anxious you are to get off the train and on to your destination, give yourself a little margin of safety and sit farther back on the train.  Derailments are nine times more likely than crashes, so safety experts say the middle of the train is probably safest.
Aisle seats are better than window seats. And rear-facing seats are safer still.

Airlines constantly remind us to stay in our seats even as jetliners are taxiing at slow speed.  Yet most railroads say nothing to passengers standing or walking between cars as their train approaches a station.

Most of the injuries in the Fairfield and Hoboken crashes were suffered by standees.  On impact, they were tossed around in the train like rag dolls.  In their haste to make a speedy exit when their train arrived, they left themselves vulnerable to broken bones when it stopped short, far too fast.

I hope that when the NTSB finishes its investigation of the Hoboken crash they finally issue some recommendations against the standing room only (SRO) conditions we see on far too many trains.  Every passenger on a plane must have a seat. Why not the passengers on trains going 80 mph?

It’s not just passengers that get tossed in a crash.  Heavy luggage on the overhead racks goes flying too.  When you pick a seat, don’t sit under anything you wouldn’t want hitting you on the head.

You can’t assume doors will open if there’s a crash.  Neither will the windows, some of which are so strong that even rescue workers can’t break them.  So read the safety placards and know which windows open and how.  When you take your seat, glance around and decide what your options are before you need them.
The airlines make a safety announcement before every flight.  But I can’t ever remember hearing a safety reminder on Metro-North.  Wouldn’t it help to keep commuters and novice riders aware of safety?

My sincere hope is that the NTSB and FRA will not only solve why these train accidents occur and how to prevent them, but also suggest ways to make them more survivable. That should make all of us feel, and be, safer.

 Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.