Commuters Blast Safety, Crowding, Reliability Of Metro-North Trains

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The room at the Pequot Library in Southport is packed with people from all over Fairfield County who want to talk directly to Metro-North and state Department of Transportation representatives about their concerns for train service. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Commuters from around Fairfield County expressed their anger and frustration with their train service to representatives of Metro-North and the state Department of Transportation during a question-and-answer session Tuesday night.

The auditorium at the Pequot Library in Southport was packed during a meeting organized by the Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby to address Metro-North's service problems, which range from derailments and service interruptions from power failures, to late, canceled and stranded trains.

“You really should just be totally embarrassed by your performance,” said Thomas Orofino of Westport, addressing the panel of officials. “We depend on that railroad to get us to the office in the morning.”

Fielding the complaints was a panel made up of Anne Kirsch, chief safety and security officer at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Susan Doering, vice president of customer service; John Kesich, senior vice president of operations; Eugene Colonese, rail administrator for the state Department of Transportation; and Jim Redeker, state commissioner of transportation.

Overcrowding was the most common problem cited by unhappy the commuters along the New Haven Line.

“I take the 5:41 [a.m. train] out of Fairfield, and they’re standing by Darien,” said Fairfield resident Ted Cook. Putting extra cars onto the train shouldn’t be difficult, he said. 

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, also addressed the overcrowding issue.

“I just don't understand how the train can be allowed to operate when 60 to 70 people are standing in the aisle,” Steinberg said. He attended the meeting on behalf of his constituents in Westport, where he said three serious incidents have happened between the Greens Farms and Saugatuck stations.

“Given your safety performance over the last seven months I'm really worried about a derailment," Steinberg said. "I do hope you can explain how is it when you can be allowed to run such crowded trains with your recent safety record.”

Others pleaded with the officials to understand their issues. Many in the audience shouted denials when Keisch said Metro-North does care.

“If we didn't care, we wouldn't be here,” Keisch said. “We ourselves are not happy with the service.”

Redeker pointed to improvements in the commuter rail since Metro-North took it over 30 years ago. But service has deteriorated in the last seven months, he said.

“You should feel comfortable and safe,” Redeker said. “But the service reliability is a concern.”

For Norwalk commuter Laura Lamorte, the lack of information about the train problems from conductors and at the stations is an issue. The train service has steadily gotten worse, she said. In the last seven months, it has been much worse, she said.

“The only thing that was consistent with this service is that it’s good -- it could be late -- but it's still good,” said Spencer Brown of Westport.

But he compared Metro-North's current service with an unpopular restaurant, saying the service was so bad that no one would go there to eat. “The bottom line here is that the service on Metro-North is deplorable.”

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