Friday, March 31, 2006

Thomas The Tank Engine

Actually, not quite Thomas, but today's window seat and lighting allowed me to capture some of the Metro North train cars riding our rails.

Today's pics:
  1. Early morning diesel going backwards to Grand Central
  2. My train to arrive in GCT after 8am
  3. Passing another New Haven line train... in the Bronx?
  4. Almost reaching Manhattan and we passed this train
  5. Back of train around Harlem 125th Street
  6. Front of same train

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Iron Bar Hotel

Interesting what I caught the other day sitting on top of one of those carts the Metro North employees drive around Grand Central Terminal. It's a Post Office mail tub. You know. The one's with a warning of fine or imprisonment for misuse.

At a time when we are debating offering illegal immigrants an amnesty program, perhaps we need another amnesty so our Metro North employees don't get dragged off by the Postal police.

Click here for an article on an earlier amnesty program.

The pics are:
  1. Cart with bricks and post office mail tub on back
  2. Close up of Warning... maximum penalty of $1,000 or 3 years imprisonment for theft or misuse
  3. [inset] happy tub doing what it is supposed to

Precision Molding #2

The one Metro North consistent is that you don't have to look far on a New Haven line car for a design problem...

Sitting in my window seat on the 7:37pm (car #8700) out of Grand Central this evening, I once again got to see the fine alignment of panels that near my door. Another gap in the wall, this time stuffed with someone's receipt. Given that the panel holds the gears to release the doors in case of an emergency, you would think that Metro North wouldn't want people sliding paper in there...

Today's pics of the side of the panel (double click to enlarge):
  1. Lower panel portion that is aligned
  2. Mid panel portion where gap begins
  3. Close up of gap
  4. If you look carefully, someone jammed a receipt in the wall
  5. Lower panel sealed tight
  6. Gap portion with opening
  7. Lower panel sealed tight
  8. Gap wide enough for a pen to fit

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

All That Crud #2

Smooth ride. Good announcements. On time departure and arrival. What more do you want?

How about a window that's been cleaned and doesn't look covered with spew? How about a wall that doesn't have some mold looking substance growing on it? We've seen this before...

Would any of us fly on an airline if we took a window seat and saw this filth, grime and likely germ laboratory? No. So why don't we pick another railroad that would clean its cars more often? Oh. That's because Metro North is a monopoly and we have no choice.

Tonight's pics from car #8822, the 7:37 out of Grand Central:
  1. window sill covered in spew
  2. another view
  3. and other
  4. weather stripping covered in grime
  5. what's growing behind that seat on the wall?
  6. close up of crud

A Trio of Problems

Yesterday's morning ride into Grand Central was more of the same... poor design, poor service and poor security. Caught the last Metro North car (#8508) and found myself without a seat standing in the vestibule...

Poor design? you've guessed it. Felt the cold wind blowing at my feet and like before, saw the light shining through where the weather stripping doesn't seal the door.

Poor service? you've guessed it. Looked up and there was that lighting grid once again. The dust particle collection so thick that you could spread them on a knife like butter. Likely hasn't been cleaned in years.

Poor security? you've guessed it. Like we've seen before, conductor man had the back compartment propped open with a stick and after East Norwalk he headed to the front of the train never to be seen again.

Who needs to fix these problems? you've guessed it. Metro North Railroad.

The pics:
  1. Top 2 of the train door with gaps
  2. Bottom 2 of the dust encrusted lighting grid

Monday, March 27, 2006

Cracking the Code #3

Last week's pics of some of the Metro North Railroad cars I travelled on... similar range to prior weeks (8400s-9000s). Caught some decent reflections on the glass...

The pics:
  1. 8969
  2. 8719
  3. 8440
  4. 8558
  5. 8912
  6. 8544
  7. 9013
  8. 8438

Never a Bride, Always a Bridesmaid

The other day I got on my train home and found the latest Milepost publication on my seat. Whether you like it or not, consider it propaganda or good communication, it is useful in one aspect. It is the only place I can find that compares the performance of the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines. While the Metro North website has two years of on-time data, it is aggregated and doesn't allow for a commuter to make comparisons.

How did the New Haven line do for January? We're consistent. Consistently not catching the bouquet.
  • Last in AM performance? New Haven.
  • Last in PM performance? New Haven.
  • Last in Off-peak weekday performance? New Haven.
  • Last in Off-peak weekend performance? New Haven.
  • Last overall? New Haven.
Today's pic is a scan from the back of March 2006 Milepost.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Team Player

Why is it that Metro North commuters will act differently on the train than they do at home? From the drunks to the space hogs to the litterbugs... I wouldn't want to see their living rooms.

This morning, I'm sitting diagonally across from a Euro-suit who's reading his smatter of papers. We hit the GCT tunnel and suddenly he's up, papers are still under the seat and on the seat next to his. No concern from him. Before I can say something he's at the door and I'm getting called by an old colleague. Unfortunately, couldn't get a clear shot of his face.

If idiots like this would just do their part, the train ride would be better for all of us.

The pics:
  1. On the seat beside him
  2. Under his seat
  3. Running for the door, no papers in hand

Sharper Image Innovation Lab

I've found myself standing on too many trains home, caught in the vestibule and hoping for a seat when folks get off at Stamford. When my eyes wander upward, I'm wary of the lighting I'll find. There are two types. One is a series of flourescents behind rectangular flat plastic panels. The other is another poor Metro North Railroad design that may be impacting your health.

What's that wonderful design? A series of flourescents behind an aluminum looking suspended grid. The problem with the grid, is that with all the ions floating around the train, it has likely become charged and now attracts particles. You know what I'm talking about... Sharper Image built a massive business around attracting particles with their Ionic Breeze line of air purifiers.

From their site:
"The Ionic Breeze cleans the air by trapping airborne particles as they circulate past an array of electrically charged stainless steel blades. Contaminated air from the room is drawn in through the vents at the back of the unit. As the particles enter, they are electrically charged and are attracted to the oppositely charged collection blades inside. These charged particles will stick to the blades until wiped off by the user. "

Replace blades with light grid and you get the idea. The particles have been attracted. The problem is that Metro North is not cleaning the grids frequently enough (or at all) and a commuter now this black layer of particles hanging overhead and flowing through the air. Try running your finger along it one time...

The pics:

1, 2, & 3 Plastic enclosed vestibule lighting
4, 5, & 6 Ionized grid

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Deja Vu

Last week we had a range in weather that afforded different views from the early morning platform...


1-4 To the north, 5-8 To the south
  1. 3/13
  2. 3/14
  3. 3/15
  4. 3/16
  5. 3/13
  6. 3/14
  7. 3/15
  8. 3/16

Precision Molding

When you leave for work in the morning, you never know what new experience Metro North Railroad has in store for its commuter... is it funky service, a poor designed train, or something strange in the air?

Sitting in my seat on the train home (car #8558), I got to see that tonight would be a design night highlighting that precision molding and quality control have not yet taken root with Metro North. The gap between the window and side molding is reminisent of US car manufacturing in the 1970s... perhaps we should have the Japanese build our trains as they've figured out how to make parts align.

Today's pics of where the panel meets the window:
  1. Left view
  2. Center view
  3. Right view
  4. Close up of gap
  5. Left view showing that a pen could fit inside
  6. Right view that's aligned

Views From The Train

A benefit of Metro North is the views you can't get from an automobile.

Pics of the last few days:
  1. Bridge to Manhattan
  2. Norwalk area
  3. The Bronx

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

There's No Energy Crisis

I recently attended a conference by Core77 called Design 2.0. Interesting number of speakers talking about how design differentiates you from your competitors and how good design keeps your clients. Oh to be a monopoly like Metro North Railroad and not have to worry about good design.

Today's poor design on our 1970's era trains? Weather stripping. Specifically that piece of rubber that runs under the eight side doors on each car.

One would think since we can seal a window, an auto, and get it all at Home Depot, that Metro North would've purchased the best weather stripping. But no. It's some badly fitting, gap producing, screwed in piece of rubber that lets the air just travel free. Not just where the doors meet, but under each of the screws. Great if you're in a convertible in the summer. Not great if you have to stand, it's 30 degrees outside and the cold air is whipping by your feet.

Today's pics from the morning ride on car #8914.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Trash Talkin...

Had to grab a later train today and found myself on an empty platform with time to kill. Trying to keep warm, I walked the length of the platform and was stunned at the amount of garbage down by the tracks. Hard to pressure Metro North to clean up its act if we commuters are not doing our part...

See if you can spot the following in the pics above (click twice to enlarge):
  • Baseball cap
  • Buried sandal
  • Other sandal (no match)
  • Altoids container
  • Softdrink bottle
  • Scarf
  • Hanger
  • Pencil
  • Cigarette butts
  • Chinese food mustard packet
  • Water bottles
  • Heineken bottle
  • Rolling Rock bottle
  • Other brown beer bottle
  • Snapple bottle
  • Juice bottle
  • Kleenex pack
  • Red wooden stake (looks eerily like what was propping doors open)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Cracking The Code #2

This week's pics of some of the Metro North Railroad cars I travelled on... similar range to last week's (8400s-8900s). Still say it supports my theory on retirement. Wonder if the new Hudson / Harlem line cars are all in the 2xxx range... oh, to be a modern train commuter

The pics:
  1. 8502
  2. 8404
  3. 8800
  4. 8513
  5. 8728
  6. 8817
  7. 8914
  8. 8728

Practicing for the Posiedon

One thing about riding the Metro North Railroad is that you're always in for a new adventure. Expect the unexpected... Just when you've had a good uneventful quiet couple of rides, you hear that "Pull that lever, pull that red lever"...

Yesterday morning, I was on the south bound New Haven line heading into GCT for 8:25am. The train should have some nine working cars with lights and a reasonable temperature. Today... ninth car is invisible. Eigth car (mine #8914) had no lights. And the seventh... announcement from the conductor "If you're in the eighth car and want to read please move up as the lights are not working. If you're in the seventh car and too hot, please move back". Too hot? Temperature was 25 degrees outside when I boarded. How can a car be too hot on a day like that?

But that wasn't the excitement. The surprise? When we got to the station, our doors wouldn't open. Other cars opened. You could see the people exit. No message from the crew. No crew. People started getting agitated. Some started to shout. Then one guy yelled to open the access panel. So two commuters turned the knobs and got it open. Inside that panel, lots of gears and one big red lever.
"Pull that lever, pull that red lever"... One guy pulled it down and the single door opened...

What's Metro North got in store next for this commuter? Stay tuned.

The pics (dark due to lack of interior lights):
  1. Access panel still hanging open
  2. Close up
  3. Escape route

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Boys With Toys

Some of the vehicles being driven inside Grand Central Terminal over the past couple of weeks.
  1. Getting a view from up top of GCT
  2. Looks like it belongs on an airport runway
  3. Now that's a cool cop car
  4. Where's this forklift going?
  5. Who's the guy riding on back?
  6. What's in those barrels?
  7. MTA Horn tooter
  8. Passing through
  9. Look out for that Metro North commuter

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A President To Vote For...

Tonight I attended the President's Forum where Metro North Railroad President Peter Cannito answered questions from the public and shared some news on progress and improvements.

My expectations going in? Low, real low... figured Cannito would stay mum and have others answer while he waited for the meeting to end. Thought I would see members of the public turned away and unable to be heard.

Reality? Metro North President Cannito personally answered every question. He was candid, knowledgeable, detailed and willing to take criticism. He took notes and assigned follow-up on various items that were raised. I was stunned that he knew the minute details of his business. Every commuter and member of the public who signed up had their questions answered. Cannito then opened the floor to any other questions. The meeting ended early as all were heard.

His performance gave me new optimism that Metro North will improve for its New Haven line riders.

He's got my vote...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Just Fix It

At times it feels like Metro North Railroad could use a swift Nike adjustment... too often the things that are broken/wrong on our cars and platforms seem to be accepted as standard practice. I can now add clocks and speakers to the doors that don't open.

This foggy morning, while waiting on the platform, I checked the clock to see if our commuter train was on time. Fortunately the clock works... well actually... twice a day. At 9am and 9pm. Or is that at 11:45am and 11:45pm...

And once on the train? The speaker over my head buzzed continually like an insect that wouldn't die. The sound though... more like a short circuiting buzzer than a bug caught on a neon zapper.

Today's pics:
  1. Fog to the North
  2. Fog to the South
  3. Fog in the towers
  4. It doesn't look like 9am...
  5. Or is that 11:45pm?
  6. Repair time

Secure That Door... oooppsss....

In this post 9-11 world where we are encouraged to report suspicious activity or packages, have our bags scanned as we enter office buildings and need to take off our shoes before boarding a flight... this morning's train ride had me trying to figure out just what Metro North was doing.

I boarded the last car (#8800) of an early morning train to GCT and sat near the back of the car. A conductor stayed at the back of the train making announcements through East Norwalk when he headed forward to check tickets. What surprised me was that he left the door to the control room open. Not just open, propped open with a red piece of wood. Propped open in a manner like this was his normal practice. Now, I don't know what a passenger could do in the rear control room of a travelling Metro North Railroad train... but it probably shouldn't be open.

The conductor? He never returned. For over an hour that I was on the train, that door stayed propped open.

What happened when we got to Grand Central? As each commuter filed out, some guy in an orange safety vest boarded, went into the control room and hit a bunch of buttons and switches. Horn sounded. Outside train lights went off. Door stayed propped open. That didn't phase him... more like it was standard practice.

When we secure our cockpits shouldn't Metro North secure our train control rooms?

Today's pics:
  1. Door with prop at end of car
  2. Close up of the open door
  3. Moving through the Bronx... scenery change in background
  4. In the tunnel to GCT
  5. From a different angle once stopped
  6. View from outside, red wood prop clearly visible

Monday, March 13, 2006

Price Inelasticity


General marketing principles would suggest that you discount customers who buy in larger volumes. This is in order to encourage people to spend more and to reflect the lower operating costs of processing one large order than many smaller orders.

Unfortunately, Metro North Railroad hasn't fully embraced this concept and through a little careful planning, commuters can arbitrage some posted fares.

Monthly passes are the best value (especially if bought online for a 2% discount). Daily peak fares are the most expensive (especially if bought on board with a surcharge).

The opportunity for a commuter is with the 10 trip ticket.

Let's use Fairfield as an example (see above pic from Metro North's website). Single adult peak station ticket = $14.25. Ten trip peak ticket $142.50 (no discount). Single adult off-peak station ticket = $10.75. Ten trip off-peak ticket $91.50 (has discount). Metro North's policy if you have an off-peak ticket is to step you up to peak fares if you do it onboard the train. In this case, $3.50 a ticket.

You see where this is going... if you don't need a monthly, and travel regularly during peak hours, buy the 10-trip off-peak ticket ($91.50), pay the $3.50 step up fare each time ($35.00) and net saving 11% over the 10-trip peak ticket.

Sun Shown Down

Is it Karma, do unto others, making a Mitzvah, or what goes around, comes around... this morning I did something right and was rewarded.

The reward? Trains with available seats, no rotten smell, clear announcements before we reached each station, no sticky liquids on the floor or seats, on time travel in a relatively clean car.

What did I do? When everyone else walked by the one car in the lot with his lights on, I went to the station manager and had him announce the plate so the Jeep Liberty (plate xxx SBU) owner could come home to a working battery.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Today's pics:
  1. Fog from the north
  2. Fog to the south
  3. Fog up in the towers
  4. Was I going up or down these?
  5. Nite train
  6. Heading to my car

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cracking The Code

Above are pics of many of the Metro North cars I took this week... was wondering how they numbered these trains since there aren't some 9,000 cars riding the rails. My thought... the first two digits represent the year these cars should have been retired... some 15 - 20 years ago

The pics:
  1. 8924
  2. 8934
  3. 8965
  4. 8531
  5. 8449
  6. 8975
  7. 8423
  8. 8659

Friday, March 10, 2006

I'm King Of The World!

Had to capture pics of this guy...

A lot of people on the New Haven line trains put their bags, papers on a seat next to them and hope that they end up with an extra seat to stretch out. Not a lot of people take up four seats... one for their paper, one for their bag, one for their ass and one for their feet. What got me is with our weather, he had to know the bottom of his shoes would leave something less than desirable for the next passenger on the seat. At least he took his paper with him...

I Was Dreaming...

What a difference a day makes...

This morning I grabbed an early train into Grand Central and got my first surprise as we headed into East Norwalk. For those of you who regularly ride the New Haven line... you know East Norwalk... the station with a platform that's too short for the average train. Each train, the conductor warns passengers on which cars will open and which won't. Sometimes the front, sometimes the back, sometimes the middle. Usually it's an announcement well in advance, like "Next station is East Norwalk. The front 2 cars will not platform. Walk back from the front 2 cars if you want to get off at East Norwalk." Today? They announce it after we stop, and it's "Norwalk. First four cars to exit. East Norwalk"... nice warning. Glad I wasn't the guy hustling to move forward from my ninth car.

When we got to Grand Central, I departed my car 8924 and found that sticker you see above. Now, I don't mind that an old car door breaks down. What gets me is that they have no intention of fixing it any time soon, so much confidence that they won't fix it, that Metro North can put a sticker on the door and feel comfortable that they've done something.

And the ride home?

Took the 4:35 out of GCT (hey, it's Friday) and boarded car 8449... big mistake. The stench hit as I walked through the doors... like something died in the bathroom. How long had it been rotting there? People were taking seats right near the smell. Either their ability to smell burned out long ago or they were so desperate to not have anyone nearby that they would suffer for the ride. Had to move to the other end of the car to escape it...

Today's pics from the morning train:

  1. Here comes the train...
  2. Birds? Must mean spring's arriving
  3. Crossing into Manhatten
  4. Uh - oh... death of a dream
  5. The 'out of order' door from the outside
  6. Not going to be fixing this anytime soon

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Am I Dreaming?

As I sat in my seat, I couldn't help but think that something's wrong... there's no strange smell today, no liquids in the aisle, the announcements make sense and the doors are opening, we are on time with lights working... this must be a Metro North dream

Today's pics are before and from car 8934 on an early commute home.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Is That Ash, Cedar, or Oak?

One of the benefits of having old cars that haven't been upgraded is that you get to see what happens when products and glue is asked to function beyond its original expectations.

Our cars have that wonderful aura of the early 1970s when station wagons had fake panelling on the outsides. Some designer working for Metro North Railroad decided that we needed fake panelling as trim on the insides... unfortunately, that design got translated into fake wood stickers beside the windows intending to look as trim.

On many cars, the stickers are long gone so it just looks like more dirt and crud. But on some cars (like this morning's #8423), the stickers are still hanging on, or partially hanging on, giving that wonderful look of neglect and aging.

The pics:

  1. Missing wood trim and visual effects just inches from my seat
  2. Same area, another pic
  3. Upper wood trim buckling in the corner & curling at the bottom
  4. Close-up of glue zone after 'wood' disappeared
  5. Vertical piece of wood sticker gone - nice view of original glue
  6. Trim with 80% of the sticker in place & 'wood' curl at the bottom

Decorating With Duct Tape

Travelling to one of the wealthiest states (CT) and wealthiest counties (Fairfield), with customers paying some of the highest rates in the country, it is stunning the poor shape of some of our cars.

Tonight, my friend Paul and I were looking for two seats on the 8:04pm out of GCT and couldn't find it in any of the regular cars so we headed for the bar car (#8659). Lots of room to stretch out with only six people a side, plenty of leg room, and some of the rattiest seats on the New Haven line. The pictures above show it... holes in the seats, duct tape across the aisle and the remains of where duct tape was holding a door together.

I've never read the Duct Tape book series, but I can't doubt they included patching the seats on Metro North.
Can you imagine the press if Delta or Southwest patched their seats like Metro North Railroad?

Tonight's pics:

  1. That seat has more duct tape than cushion
  2. Holes in the seat. Where's the guy with duct tape?
  3. Door missing duct tape that was holding it together

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

Walking through the north end of the GCT tunnel today, I had to stop and wonder what prompted the MTA to open up the ceilings at three different points, why they didn't seem to have any standard of barrier to keep us passengers from walking under these openings and why the shoe shine guy had a better airport quality stretch barrier?

Today's pics:

  1. How am I supposed to get to that vending machine?
  2. Another angle...
  3. Check out the high tech barriers
  4. Hope nothing's loose up there...
  5. I wouldn't walk where he did
  6. Now that's a real TensaBarrier!

What Stop Is It?

Another typical day travelling on Metro North's New Haven line...

Morning rush, standing room only and the announcement comes on (not going to be good...) "No lights in the head two cars. If you want to read, move back to another car". Thankfully, I was in the last car, enjoying my flourescent experience and feeling lucky to be able to read...

Evening rush, got a seat on the 7:37 out of GCT, headed up to CT and enjoyed a good book as the lights were aplenty... but, trust ole Metro North Railroad to muck something up... second car 8975 had no announcements... was it forgetfulness on the part of the conductors or a faulty PA system? we may never know... Thankfully, I didn't have to exit at East Norwalk where my car didn't platform and people had to head back to make their stop. Train full of people going 'what stop is next?'...

Today's pics from the evening ride:
  1. Entering the bunker at Park and 48th
  2. Looking for the train
  3. Heading up to the track
  4. Where's my track?
  5. Ah, the train
  6. What does Metro North have in store tonight?

Monday, March 06, 2006

All That Crud

One thing you just can't avoid if you ride the New Haven line is the dirt, the dust, the filth that has been building up for years on these cars. You've become so accustomed to it that you start not to notice that it is all around you.

On the train home tonight (car #8965), I avoided the remaining few middle seats and stood until Stamford. At that point, I got one of the narrow seats at the end of the car and being so close to the wall I was afforded the views that you can see above, curtesy of my cell phone camera.

  1. Remnants of some sticker now just attracting grime
  2. Filth near door handle
  3. 3-D brown globs on the wall
  4. Grease so thick it covers the fake wood
  5. Burn marks on the panel
  6. Goo so thick on the windows it looks like bullet holes

My answer to Metro North Railroad grime? I carry a bottle of Purell and make sure to sanitize my hands after every trip.

Welcome to My Blog

After almost three years and 800+ rides on the New Haven line, I've managed to experience more (and less) than I ever expected with my daily commute. More in terms of all the characters you get to see on the rides and less in terms of the quality and value for what costs me over $300 a month.

The characters have included the card playing foursomes who borrow advertisements for a table, the love sick couples who only really need one seat, the idiots who don't listen to announcements and board a train that doesn't go to their stop, the drunk partygoers who can be heard from one end of a car to another, the cheapskates who try and duck out on a fare by hiding in a bathroom, the self absorbed cell phone users who won't get out of their seat to use the lobby, and the selfish guys who stretch their bodies and belongings so no one will take a seat beside them.

The lack of quality has included Metro North Railroad trains that run a few cars short, cars with no working lights, air conditioning, heat or announcement system, bathroom doors that don't close completely filling the end of the car with their scent, ceiling ventilation systems caked in dust, announcements of delays after the train is already late at your station, seats with inadequate legroom and doors that won't open as expected (or at all).

I plan to use this blog to chronicle the many adventures of riding the New Haven line and hope that you will post your comments and experiences with Metro North railroad, be it on the New Haven, Harlem, Hudson, Port Jervis or Pascack Valley lines.