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New York Post

 

Metro-North Mess Costing City Big Bucks

September 30, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

A train crash with serious injuries, followed by days of service outages, in May. Now, an electric meltdown slashing train service for weeks. The city’s Connecticut commuters aren’t having a good year. But rusty regional rails are also terrible for New York’s economy.

Last Wednesday, riders on Metro-North’s New Haven line got a jolt. The MTA announced after 6 a.m. that service into and out of Grand Central was suspended.

A Con Ed cable (more like a pipeline than a power cord) supplying electricity to run trains’ power lines had burned itself up.

Service could be out for weeks. In the meantime, the MTA is cobbling together slow diesel trains (which don’t rely on the wires) and bus shuttles.

But ridership is way down. On Friday, 10,900 poor souls showed up for the morning commute, versus the normal 31,600 for Friday this time of year. (Another 23,500 use the line off-peak.)

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy told people to stay home. But staying home — or making do with a slow, crowded diesel train or, worse yet, driving in on clogged I-95 — has a cost.

The outage likely costs commuters about $5.3 million a day in lost time, estimates transportation economist Charles Komanoff. It also adds another 282,000 miles driven — and pollution and risk of crashes — each day in Connecticut. (Up to 6,000 daily riders on Amtrak’s Acela are out of luck, too.)

Not everyone can telecommute. Ed Gayer, who lives in Norwalk, has seen his morning commute go from an hour and 20 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes, and the afternoon trip double to 2˝ hours. (Add the sky-high cost of parking in the city, too.)

But he can’t stay home: He works in real-estate development, so has to be on-site to make sure projects are going well.

Plus, he loses the work he could get done sitting on the train. (And the substitute trains and buses are so packed, it’s hard to do much there, either.)

He’s not alone. The Marino Organization, a PR firm, tweeted that "about one-fourth of our staff takes the Metro North New Haven line to work."

The outage was "human error," says Jim Cameron of the CT Metro-North Rail Commuter Council. Con Ed took its main power source offline last month for a major upgrade — and obviously didn’t ensure that the backup was 100 percent reliable.

People live in towns like Norwalk, Darien and Greenwich for the nice house, schools and trees — and the fast ride to the city thanks to rail service.

When Jim Cameron and his wife decided to move to the ’burbs, they drew a circle and picked a Darien place within a 60-minute ride. This outage "makes South Carolina look a lot more attractive," he said.

Which is bad news for Connecticut and the city — because some of those who’d move away would take a lot of economic activity with them, whether it’s their jobs, whole companies or just their taxes and spending.

The metro area’s economy depends on keeping ever-aging infrastructure in good condition, including tracks and power.

"This is a black eye on the state," Cameron notes — and a reminder that keeping a 100-year-old system running takes constant money and vigilance.

Indeed, Con Ed took the main line out of service because it had to upgrade a power station that’s now nearly four decades old. (The feds are still scrutinizing the May crash, which a broken rail may have caused.)

But investment decisions are the product of rivalries between states. Lobbyist Al D’Amato insisted on bringing the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central at a cost, now, of $8.8 billion (and rising). Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver insisted on building the giant $1.4 billion Fulton Center downtown after 9/11. No one thinks of the MTA as one system, though that was the whole point of creating it 45 years ago.

It’s a black eye for New York City, too. We depend on our oft-beleaguered Grand Central and Penn Station commuters. Bikeshare is great, but you can’t bicycle to Midtown from Greenwich like you can from Greenwich Village.

Original Source: http://nypost.com/2013/09/29/metro-north-mess-costing-city-big-bucks/

 

 
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