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Winter-Bitten Metro-North Waves White Flag Of Surrender

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A warning for commuters at the Metro-North station - New Rochelle, NY - Jan 28, 2011 - Photo: Paul Murnane / WCBS 880

A warning for commuters at the Metro-North station – New Rochelle, NY – Jan 28, 2011 – Photo: Paul Murnane / WCBS 880

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — After a winter of frozen tracks, delayed trains and fare hikes, commuters who use Metro-North’s New Haven line are now getting hit with a major service reduction.

Metro-North riders are getting used to a new reduced schedule this week on the New Haven line, with 67,000 riders cramming into short trains for the trip to and from work, reports CBS 2’s Lou Young.

The reason for the reduced service can be found in a Connecticut rail yard. There, winter-weary trains are brought to be patched up and sent back into service, a Metro-North emergency room of sorts.

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“Above 60 cars [in need of repairs], we start having an impact on train shortages,” John Hogan, who works maintenance for Metro-North, said.

According to Hogan, the number of damaged cars has far surpassed that threshold, with about 140 cars out of service.

Commuters are struggling to cope with the train shortage.

“Even before you get to the end of the line, people have to stand, and it’s uncomfortable because it’s very tight,” rider Julie Stephens said.

The railroad is running shorter trains, less frequently, because the barrage of winter storms has brutalized its oldest equipment, and due to delayed testing on new, computerized trains waiting in an adjacent train yard.

The old fleet is running out of time.

“I’ve never seen this in 34 years,” Metro-North electrician John Standish said. “They come, and you fix one thing, and sometimes you find three [other problems].”

“This particular train dates back to 1974 or so. Most of our fleet is in the ’74, ’75, ’76 range – they’re tired,” Hogan said.

The snow and ice affects the old Metro-North cars in three critical ways: it gums up the traction motors underneath, the electric connections up top, and the mechanisms that open and close the doors.

Fixing the old cars, though, is only a Band-Aid. The real cure for the service shortages is getting the new cars into the mix, which is expected to should start happening at the end of the month, weather permitting.

The first of the new M-8 cars should begin showing up on the rails early next month. The complete phase-in could take three years.

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