Hearings on N.Y.C. Congestion Pricing

Congestion-pricing hearings are being planned from midSeptember to midOctober, all virtual: 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) and New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) today announced they will hold 13 public meetings between Thursday, Sept. 23, and Wednesday, Oct. 13, on the proposed Central Business District Tolling Program (CBDTP), also known as congestion pricing. The meetings, which will all be held virtually, will allow the public in a 28-county region in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey to learn more about the initiative and offer comments.

There is a Web site for information on the project.  The 13 hearings are broken down by region, with 3 specifically devoted to environmental-justice (EJ) issues.  New Jersey’s dates are September 24, 10 a.m. to 12 noon; October 4, 6 to 8 p.m.; and October 12, 6 to 8 p.m. (EJ).

There are also 2 new phone lines. The first, (646) 252-7440, would allow the public to leave comments or questions about the proposed program. The second, (646) 252-6777, allows the public to hear a brief description of the project, to register to speak at the public meetings, or request in advance language or American Sign Language services, or request language at least five days in advance of each meeting. American Sign Language services and CART Captioning will be provided for all meetings.

PATH May Miss Safety Target

Despite an ongoing weekend shutdown of World Trade Center service, PATH may miss its own safety program deadlines, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal by Ted Mann (March 21). The 45-weekend shutdown is needed, PATH said, to allow it to meet deadlines to install “positive train control” (PTC) technology by December, 2015. The advanced safety system was mandated by Congress for commuter railroads after a fatal train wreck in California in 2008, attributed to engineer inattention. Proponents say that wreck, and other accidents such as a recent fatal derailment on Metro-North in the Bronx, could have been prevented by PTC.

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M-N: Heavy Demand May Have Affected Safety

Responding to a Federal Railway Administration (FRA) critique of the railroad’s “safety culture”, which the FRA characterized as “deficient”, Metro-North (M-N) Railroad president Joseph J. Giulietti raised the possibility that the line’s attempt to cope with mushrooming ridership may have negatively affected safety.  Quoted in reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times (March 15), Giulietti said of mushrooming demand, “That’s a fantastic problem to have . . . if you’re a well-run railroad.” He said that M-N would study whether the increasing ridership had caused it to neglect safety.  The total number of weekday trains the railroad operates increased to 690 in 2013, a 15% increase over 2004.  “At some point, this culture turned into one of, ‘How many trains can we get in there and how fast can those trains get in there?’,” Giulietti said.

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Feds Hit Metro-North on Safety

A Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) study of operations at Metro-North Railroad has concluded that the rail line suffers from a “deficient safety culture” that emphasized on-time performance while not putting enough priority on the safety of riders and employees.  The report, resulting from an FRA inquiry dubbed “Operation Deep Dive,” was reported in The New York Times (March 14) by Matt Flegenheimer, who also appeared on WNYC radio to discuss the findings.  Prompting the federal inquiry was a fatal derailment on December 1 in which a Poughkeepsie-New York express attempted to round a sharp curve at well over the speed limit.  A fatality March 10 on the railroad’s Park Avenue elevated trestle in Manhattan, in which a track worker was killed by a train, again brought the railroad’s practices into the public eye.  Among the practices cited by the report was a tendency for the line’s operations center to pressure workers to respond quickly to maintenance issues such as signal failures that would have an impact on on-time performance.  The workers said they did not get enough time to properly perform their work.

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Weekend PATH World Trade Service to Be Suspended

Weekend service on the PATH transit system to World Trade Center and Exchange Place, Jersey City, will be suspended entirely for most weekends in 2014, starting February 14.  The suspensions will begin around midnight Friday night; service will resume at approximately 4:45 a.m. on Mondays.  Additional trains will run on the 33rd St.—Journal Square (via Hoboken) route; Newark service will operate only as far as Journal Square. Exceptions to the suspension may be made on major holiday weekends.  The service suspension, PATH says, is necessary for work on the signal system, and security enhancement, and for post-Sandy flood resilience improvements.

More information can be found at:


M-N, NJT Snarled on Successive Days

Outbound New York commuters in the evening rush were seriously affected by problems on successive days.  First, on Thursday, January 23, Metro-North’s entire system ground to a halt for about 2 hours, starting at 7:45 p.m., according to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer and Emma G. Fitzsimmons in The New York Times (Jan. 24). The railroad’s computerized traffic control system failed after technicians attempted to replace a power supply, an operation that the railroad’s president later said was ill-advised and normally conducted only when traffic is sparse.  All trains were advised by radio to proceed only to the next station, and some were unable even to get that far: one train was stranded on the railroad’s Harlem River bridge, unable to proceed; the passengers were unable to leave the crowded train.

Then, on Friday, January 24, a smoke condition and apparently a disabled train in the East River tunnels (which connect Penn Station with the Long Island Rail Road and are Amtrak’s route to New England and the Sunnyside yard in Queens used by Amtrak, the LIRR, and NJ Transit) led to a cascading series of delays.  The LIRR, the heaviest user of the tunnels, managed to escape with only a few trains cancelled and modest delays reported to be only 10 minutes.  In contrast, NJ Transit was the worst affected, reporting major delays generally of 45 to 60 minutes, starting at about 6 p.m. and not clearing up until about 9:30.  One train to Trenton was reported as being up to 2 hours behind schedule; an opening of the Portal drawbridge in the Jersey Meadows may also have contributed to the snafu.  The LIRR was likely spared the worst of the delays because there are 4 tracks in the East River tunnels; NJ Transit on the other hand, must squeeze all its trains into the 2 tracks under the Hudson River.  At peak times, the Hudson tubes operate at full capacity, so even a minor delay can affect many trains and requires hours to get back to normal.

Read about the Metro-North problems at


Riders Leave Money on MetroCards

The MetroCard has become a popular way to use New York City’s transit services; in fact, for most riders, it’s the only practical way to ride subways and buses.  Riders pay in advance to load cards with money, then use it up as they make trips.   But what happens to money that is still on cards that are lost or expire?  New York City Transit gets to keep it, and it’s counted as fare revenue; in 2012, the revenue from expiring cards reached a peak of $95 million, according to reporting by Sam Roberts in The New York Times (January 17).  MetroCards typically expire about two years from purchase; after that time, they cannot be redeemed or the amount transferred to new cards.  The amount recorded in 2012 was unusually large because many riders purchased cards before a 2010 fare increase.  Once the cards expire, do they have sentimental value?  Not much, apparently: according to the article a lot of 100 used, expired, “worthless” cards can be bought on eBay for $13.75.

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Cuomo Backs Hell Gate Transit Plan

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address on January 8, included a proposal for Metro-North service from the Bronx to New York Penn Station via the Hell Gate Bridge, a possibility that Metro-North and its parent MTA  has been studying for years.  Cuomo was unequivocal in his address, saying that it will happen, according to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times (January 9).  The proposed service would involve new stations to be built in the Bronx along Amtrak’s Hell Gate line, used by through trains between New York and New England, but without local service for many decades.  Stations would be built at Hunts Point, Parkchester, Morris Park, and Co-Op City; the trains would apparently continue on to New Rochelle and points farther in Westchester and possibly Connecticut.  Service could connect Bronx stations to Penn Station in as little as 30 minutes; the proposed line would not, however, connect with subway lines in the Bronx.  Problems that would have to be overcome would include finding space for the new trains at Penn Station, already operating at capacity in peak hours.  Some relief might be possible when the Long Island Rail Road starts diverting trains to Grand Central Terminal, but that is not scheduled to happen before 2019.  Some Long Island legislators reportedly have looked askance at letting Metro-North trains from the Bronx and Westchester compete with Long Island Rail Road trains at Penn Station.

Read the complete article (limited access) here.

Metro-North Hit by Worker Fraud Charges

Metro-North Railroad, still reeling from the fatal train wreck on December 1 and consequent operating changes forced by federal inquiries, now is contending with an investigation by the inspector general of its parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times (Dec. 19). The investigation, covering a period earlier in 2013, found that every foreman on the railroad covered by the investigation “abused his position by engaging in nonwork related activities during business hours”, simultaneously involving subordinates in the scams and filing inaccurate time sheets.  The audit appears to be more of a sampling than a comprehensive investigation, as only 8 individuals were investigated; still, the fact that all 8 were found to be at fault suggests that a wide pattern of fraudulent behavior within the railroad’s personnel may exist.  Specific incidents cited included long trips during working hours for nonbusiness purposes, including trips to Pennsylvania to buy cigarettes and, apparently, fireworks (the work locations of the individuals were not reported; it should be noted that one Metro-North location, Port Jervis, lies at the Pennsylvania-New York border); another individual was noted as driving aimlessly for hours while collecting overtime.  A previous investigation, reported in September, focused on machinists and their supervisors, and reported work days spent largely at fast-food chains and a hardware store.

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Charges Unlikely in Metro-North Wreck

After 4 passengers died in the Metro-North wreck on December 1, suspicion rapidly focused on the engineer after it became apparent that he either dozed off or was in some sort of “highway hypnosis” state before the crash—but does that put him at fault, or is he just human?  According to reporting online by Murray Weiss on the Huffington Post (Dec. 16), investigators have yet to turn up any evidence that the engineer committed any crime, even if he dozed off; it turns out, surprise! falling asleep is not a crime.  So far, it appears that he was home all day the day before the accident, went to bed at 8:30 p.m. the night before his early-morning job shift began, got a good night’s sleep, and was alert when he went on duty.  Drug tests are not complete, but investigators don’t expect to find anything there, either.

A major U.S.A. rail passenger wreck in California years ago led to major changes in future rail safety, and was caused by the engineer’s using a cell phone instead of watching the track.  In the Metro-North wreck, however, investigators have determined that there was no cell phone use; in fact, the engineer’s cell phone was turned off.  The engineer is a volunteer firefighter in his home town and reportedly devastated by the accident; he has cooperated fully with the investigation.  He has an unblemished, 11-year record in running trains.  Summing up, a law enforcement source said that “falling asleep, by itself, is fundamentally not a crime, not even for a motorman driving a train.  There was nothing mitigating here.  He was not drunk, on the phone, or out partying the night before, and he went to sleep at a reasonable hour.”

If the engineer is not at fault, who is?  Attention is likely to focus instead on management and operating procedures.  Human failure is always a possibility in any endeavour.  At the end of the day, it’s the responsibility of those managing human resources to develop systems to mitigate risk from all sources, even including people falling asleep on the job.  It’s easy to say “he’s at fault, the rules say he can’t fall asleep,” but people are people, and people are known to fall asleep.  Management can hardly say that this is a new concept. to them.

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