No, I don’t hate Metro-North. Yes, I do spend a lot of time criticizing them, but only to try to make them better.
The railroad does have a lot of room for improvement: They botched the mask enforcement rules, have been slow to add more service and could really use some improvement in their on-board enforcement of the Quiet Car rules. But just so you know I’m not a complete grouch, let’s give the railroad credit for what they do right.
Overall, especially compared to some other U.S. commuter railroads, Metro-North does a darned good job.
RELIABLE SERVICE: The railroad deserves a lot of credit for improved service in bad weather. Before the arrival of the new M8 cars, they’d regularly suspend operations in heavy snow, lest trains get stranded when they broke down. These days they’re almost a weatherproof railroad, keeping things moving in all but the worst blizzards.
They also kept service running at the start of the pandemic, running trains when most other transportation, offices and governments shut down. As a result, essential workers — nurses, cops, firefighters — could get to work to help others. And they did that at great personal risk to their employees, seven of whom died of COVID. Their sacrifice made it safer for others in our darkest hour and we should thank them.
BETTER COMMUNICATIONS: In my 19 years serving on the CT Rail Commuter Council the biggest single complaint we always voiced was about a lack of communications when service was interrupted. Trains would run late, or not at all, leaving passengers wondering what was happening.
Today you can get timely emails, texts and social media updates about such delays, their cause and what, if any, alternative service would be offered. They have full-time people monitoring Twitter, posting updates and answering questions — truly a thankless job when facing a slew of angry riders.
On station platforms the PA announcements and electronic signs also provide timely information. Commuters can forgive a lot of problems if they’re kept informed. And now they are.
GRAND CENTRAL: Grand Central Terminal is truly a magnificent station. And the railroad’s parent, MTA, has done a lot to make it more than that. There are restaurants, shops, bars and an iconic Apple store.
Compare Grand Central to Penn Station and you’ll count yourself lucky to have such amenities which are well kept, clean and constantly being improved.
In a few months the LIRR’s new station under Vanderbilt Avenue will open for service. Years late and way, way over budget, it’s an important investment in the region’s transportation future.
TECHNOLOGY: The railroad’s TrainTime app is a game changer. You can not only check the timetable, and buy a ticket but also see how crowded your arriving train will be (so you can find a seat). The app gets downloaded 6,000 times a day and is used by 90% of all passengers. And to their credit, it was designed in-house by the MTA’s IT team.
So say what you will, Metro-North does a lot of stuff right.
Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for more than 25 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group, sits on the Merritt Parkway Conservancy board and also serves on the Darien RTM and as program director for Darien TV79. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.