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Metro-North Riders Air Complaints In Conn.

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – More than 100 people packed a forum in Connecticut where Metro-North commuters complained about problems plaguing the rail service.

Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker attended the “commuter speak out” Tuesday evening in Fairfield and took questions.

As WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau reported, there were a lot of complaints.

Riders complained about service delays caused by electrical problems, crowded trains and heating and cooling problems. Some commuters also accused Connecticut and Metro-North officials of not caring about them.

Peter Ziegler commutes from Milford to his job at the World Trade Center. Though he hops the 4:23 a.m., he said he often rushes to get to his job by 7 a.m.

“They’ve added five minutes to the schedule and they still can’t make it on time,” he told Schneidau.

The new M-8 cars, advertised as snowproof have been tripped up by all the snow this winter. Many are in the shop for repairs, Schneidau reported.

That is one of the reasons why trains are so crowded and service is stretched, Schneidau reported.

“The question is, what’s wrong with the design of these new M-8 cars which are eventually going to be our entire fleet, and what’s being done to fix that problem? Because winter happens every year around here,” commuter advocate Jim Cameron said.

About 1,100 commuters use the Danbury line every day. It’s a 30-minute ride to the main line in Norwalk.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle spoke out on behalf of her constituents Tuesday night.

“The Danbury line has been the poor stepchild of Metro-North for years and years and now we’ve had $70 million on a new signal system and it doesn’t work,” she said.

Recent power outages and downed wires have stranded thousands of passengers.

In September, a botched power station maintenance project affected New Haven line service for 12 days, forcing the railroad to severely limit service.

Last month, downed wires stalled a train for nearly two hours in Westport.

A day later, a computer glitch suspended service systemwide on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines. The MTA later said the glitch was caused by human error.

The Connecticut Rail Commuter Council is holding another forum on Metro-North service at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Stamford.

The forum was held a few hours after regulators investigating a deadly Metro-North derailment in the Bronx in December recommended that the railroad install recorders on its vehicles and new speed-limit signs along its tracks.

Four people were killed when a train derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station on Dec. 1.

The railroad said it was studying the recommendations and working with the NTSB “to address questions about implementation of the report’s recommendations.”

Metro-North currently posts speed-limit signs where speeds are temporarily restricted, but not in every case where a restriction is permanent, the letter said. The permanent restrictions are listed in timetables, the NTSB said.

It said that on the curve where the train derailed, where a permanent 30 mph limit was in effect, no sign was posted until after the accident. The NTSB has found that the train hit the curve at 82 mph.

Erecting signs at all such locations “will alert train operating crews that speed restrictions are forthcoming and will comply with industry best practices,” a letter to the railroad’s new president, Joseph Giulietti, said.

The NTSB acknowledged that posting such signs “may not have prevented” the derailment.

It also called for recorders facing both into and out of all locomotives and cars with engineer cabs. The recorders would capture audio and images that could be used to investigate accidents and to monitor safety compliance, it said.

Currently, there’s no way to monitor inside the conductor’s car to verify the operator isn’t distracted or falling asleep.

The board said it has been recommending such recorders for years and noted that the Federal Railroad Administration has not ordered implementation.

Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a news release, “Understanding what is happening inside the cab just prior to a crash can provide crucial information about how to prevent future accidents.”

New York Sen. Charles Schumer and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal are urging Metro-North to act quickly.

“This report should spur the FRA to move quickly on making these cameras mandatory, and prompt Metro-North to install them ASAP and not wait until the feds require them to do so,” Schumer said.

“There’s nothing novel or high-tech about cameras facing inward or outward,” Blumenthal said. “There’s nothing particularly expensive about it.  It should be standard operating equipment.”

The NTSB’s investigation of the derailment is ongoing, and its final report isn’t expected for months. The board asked Metro-North to respond in 90 days.

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