Metro-North Doesn’t Know Best Industry Practices

Governor Ned Lamont’s plan for speeding up trains between New York, New Haven, and Hartford seems to have fallen by the wayside, but Metro-North and the Connecticut Department of Transportation are still planning for future investments. Several high-level officials met with the advocates from the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, and the results are unimpressive – they have made false statements out of ignorance of not just best practices outside North America but also current federal regulations, including the recent FRA reform.

The meeting link is a video and does not have a searchable transcript, so I’m going to give approximate timestamps and ask that people bear with me. At several points, highly-paid officials make statements that are behind the times, unimaginative, or just plain incorrect. The offenders are Richard Andreski, the bureau chief of public transportation for CDOT, who according to Transparency.CT earns a total of $192,000 a year including fringe benefits, and Glen Hayden, Metro-North’s vice president of engineering, who according to See Through NY earns an annual base salary of $219,000.

20-25 minutes: there’s a discussion, starting a few minutes before this timestamp, about Metro-North’s future rolling stock procurement. In addition to 66 M8 electric multiple units (EMUs), the railroad is planning to buy 60 unpowered railcars. Grilled about why buy unpowered railcars rather than multiple units, such as diesel multiple units (DMUs), Andreski said a few questionable things. He acknowledged that multiple units accelerate faster than locomotive-hauled trains, but said that this was not needed on the lines in question, that is the unpowered Metro-North branch lines, Shore Line East, and the New Haven-Hartford line. In reality, the difference, on the order of 45 seconds per stop at a top speed of 120 km/h (55 seconds if the top speed is 144 km/h), and electrification both massively increases reliability and saves an additional 10 seconds per stop (or 30 if the top speed is 144).

More worryingly, Andreski talks about the need for flexibility and the installed base of diesel locomotives. He suggests unpowered cars are more compatible with what he calls the train of the future, which runs dual-mode. Dual-mode trains today are of low quality, and the innovation in the world focuses on single-mode electric trains, with a growing number of railroads electrifying as well as transitioning to multiple units. Metro-North itself is a predominantly EMU-based railroad – running more EMUs, especially on the already-wired Shore Line East, is more compatible with its existing infrastructure and maintenance regime than keeping low-performing diesel branches and running diesel under catenary on the trunk line.

1:14-1:17: Andreski states that the 60 unpowered single-level cars should cost about $250 million, slightly more than $4 million per car. When a reader of this blog noted that in the rest of the world, a 25-meter multiple-unit costs $2.5 million, Andreski responded, “this is not accurate.” The only trouble is, it is in fact accurate; follow links to contracts reported in Railway Gazette in the rolling stock cost section of this post. It is not clear whether Andreski is lying, ignorant, or in a way both, that is making a statement with reckless disregard for whether it is true.

Hayden then chimes in, talking about FRA regulations, saying that they’re different from American ones, so European and Asian prices differ from American ones, seemingly indifferent to the fact that he just threw Andreski under the bus – Andreski said that multiple-units do not cost $2.5 million per car and if a public contract says they do then it’s omitting some extra costs. The only problem is, FRA regulations were recently revised to be in line with European ones, with specific eye toward permitting European trains to run on American tracks with minimal modifications, measured in tens of thousands of dollars of extra cost per car. In a followup conversation off-video, Hayden reiterated that position to longtime reader Roger Senserrich – he had no idea FRA regulations had been revised.

Hayden’s response also includes accessibility requirements. Those, too, are an excuse, albeit a slightly defensible one: European intercity trains, which are what American tourists are most likely to have experience with, are generally inaccessible without the aid of conductors and manual boarding plates. However, regional trains are increasingly fully accessible, at a variety of floor heights, and it’s always easier to raise the floor height to match the high platforms of the Northeast Corridor than to lower it to match those of low-platform networks like Switzerland’s.

1:45: asked about why Metro-North does not run EMUs on the wired Shore Line East, a third official passes the buck to Amtrak, saying that Amtrak is demanding additional tests and the line is Amtrak’s rather than Metro-North’s property. This is puzzling, as 1990s’ Amtrak planned around electrification of commuter rail service east of New Haven, to the point of constructing its substations with room for expansion if the MBTA were ever interested in running electric service on the Providence Line. It’s possible that Amtrak today is stalling for the sake of stalling, never mind that commuter rail electrification would reduce the speed difference with its intercity trains and thus make them easier to schedule and thus more reliable. But it’s equally possible that CDOT is being unreasonable; at this point I would not trust either side of any Amtrak-commuter rail dispute.

28 comments

    • Robert Hale

      They are hilariously ignorant and unprepared. They could not even tell me how many cars they need to run today’s paltry branch line service. They just said they need 110 for today’s service “plus some increment” that they never specified. I was the person that asked about the >$4 million cost per car. The question clearly made them uncomfortable, and they kept spewing bullshit.

  1. yuuka

    You can buy unpowered trailers and hook them up to the DMUs you already have – that is, unless you’re saying that Metro North don’t already have DMUs.

    It’s not uncommon on fixed-length EMU consists to have a few unpowered trailers already.

    • Alon Levy

      It indeed doesn’t. DMUs are very uncommon in the US in general. Americans like using them only on very short trains – Andreski mentions a half-truth to that effect in the 20-25 minute mark exchange.

      American EMUs power every car – in fact, every axle. It’s like the Shinkansen, without even the two trailer cars, and not like the 40-60% powered Japanese commuter rail EMUs, let alone European EMUs, which power around half the cars and have one motor for the entire car covering all axles at once, rather than a smaller motor per axle. This approach isn’t necessarily bad, evidently the Shinkansen uses it, and I suspect Japan would use it more widely if it needed high-performance regional trains going 160 km/h like the FLIRT, DB Class 425, Mireo, etc.

      • adirondacker12800

        Up until recently the only place outside of New York and Philadelphia, with electricity, was Metra Electric. And some vestigial MARC trains. New York, Philadelphia and Metra Electric are the only places where there are local and express tracks that can do fancy things like run commuter express trains at 150 kph. When the state wants to spend the money to maintain the track that well. NJTransit and Bombardier are aiming for 175 with powered cars and trailers. Which they have to be able to do if you want to occasionally slot them in between the 200 kph Amtrak Regionals and the 260 kph Avelia/Acela IIs.

      • yuuka

        Now that I think about it, the idea still stands – start off with a diesel loco and unpowered trailers, then when electrification does happen and EMUs are introduced, the unpowered trailers can go into an EMU consist to create a longer train, reducing your EMU acquisition costs for the same amount of trains.

        The bigger question here is the merits of micromanaging train length which is popular among American commuter railways and even some subways (BART, I’m looking at you). I see to remember that there was quite the uproar when WMATA moved to 4-car base sets with the 7000 series. IIRC in London the base building block is 4-cars, and with my experience on JR West they do something similar.

        Or you could just go with fixed length primary and secondary units, like most other Japanese railways. (10+5, 6+4 as some examples)

        • Herbert

          Nuremberg subway runs short trains most of the time. But at ridiculously short headways. At least on the automated U2/U3

        • F-Line to Dudley

          MNRR/LIRR M#-series EMU’s don’t have the ability to take generic unpowered trailers. The way they’re designed, they can only MU with alike cars requiring unpowered versions to be similar-make MU’s instead of generic coaches. For example, each car in a set has to supply its own HEP power even when it’s a non-propulsion car; there is not enough extra electrical capacity to spare in each powered car to pass it over to a blind coach. The 25 unpowered M8 singlets all have pantographs and third rail shoes strictly for HVAC, lights, outlets, etc. even though they have no propulsion. The cars also have to have exactly-alike MU’ing electronics, meaning the unpowered variants have the same “talky” 2-way MU communication for smoothing over the propulsion as the powered variants. The M2 bar car trailers worked the same way, and the never-ordered M1 bar cars would’ve worked the same way third-rail only.

          The Silverliner V, Silverliner I-IV, and NJT Arrows are similarly incompatible with unlike-design stock. So are many types of DMU’s, and many types of foreign EMU’s. On old-timey Budd RDC’s you’d violate the warranty if you attempted to trainline with loco-haul coaches, which is why Budd offered unpowered sandwich cars for order.

          On the flipside you have something like the Bombardier MLV EMU that NJ Transit is ordering where the trailers *are* stock MLV coaches, including ability for NJT’s installed base of MLV’s to trainline with the new power cars. Though it remains to be seen if that’s going to be *true* off-shelf trainlining as-is or if the coaches will have to get retrofitted with additional MU electronics to be able to be compatible with both the EMU’s and loco-haul. And despite the promise of that product it’s still unlikely you’d be able to take any old coach (e.g. MBTA/MARC Kawasaki bi-levels) and throw it between the power cars because of how heavily the design is predicated on propelling the properties of a homegrown Bombardier coach. It’s banking on the existing popularity of that one coach make much moreso than any sort of true plug-and-play compatibility. And for that reason it’ll probably be a few years of BBD working the bugs out before they opt to offer the product up in a single-level version or attempt to certify and single-level stock for it.

          Worldwide there are more examples of mixed-set EMU compatibility, simply because of the higher EMU installed base. But over there it is similarly a viable choice in the amount of complexity a buyer wants to take on: go with alike-only trainlining compatibility for simplified design and surer-thing propulsion quality, or go with semi-open design that opens up more outside trailer options but at somewhat increased complexity in electrical distribution and propulsion (over)compensation. Each having its own set of compromises, and none yet having that perfect superset of flawless EMU performance-meets-flawless loco-haul coach compatibility…at least not at a price most operators would find worth paying. In the case of MNRR/LIRR, their fleets are so overwhelmingly EMU that considerations for attaching trailers just don’t rate. They pretty much made the correct design decision 40 years ago to go with alike-only cars; somebody just needs to tell ConnDOT that. NJT, on the other hand, has such a mixed system that the only thing they could point to for fleet unification was the MLV coach. If you want to electrify more of the system, being able to pass those cars between loco-haul and EMU-sandwich trains is probably the best way to speed up that transition; they need the fleet fluidity to make it happen. So there are lots of considerations to slice-and-dice, but unfortunately “start push-pull, graduate to EMU” isn’t necessarily the way it can easily go unless you are HEAVILY invested beforehand in one coach make like the MLV that just happens to be gaining a matching powered version.

          • adirondacker12800

            The multilevels already run push-pull, with either a cab car or a locomotive on both ends. I’m sure they are considering “locomotive in the middle” as they are designing this. Don’t they already do that when they are moving stuff back and forth from the Meadows?

            NJTransit and SEPTA are making the investment in development costs. Having experience with multilevels might be handy when East Side Access opens in 2037 and Metro North can start running to Penn Station. There’s no reason why they can’t use multilevels on the obscure branch lines. If it’s compatible with NJTransit, SEPTA and MARC, that is a big enough pool that equipment can be swapped around when needed. Or Kawasaki could come up with an unpowered version of the M8. Either of them should be cheaper than the 4 million they think new cars should cost. ,,,, EMU multilevels might be handy for the LIRR… This isn’t going to happen until long after I’m dead, the electrification past Croton is going to be 60Hz catenary….

          • F-Line to Dudley

            The self-propelled MLV’s aren’t “loco in the middle”. That’s still bog standard push-pull trainlining even when the loco is in an unorthodox position in the set. The MLV EMU’s will have true-blue Multiple Unit trainlining where the power cars in the set 2-way communicate to smooth out the propulstion (a 3-car cab–power car–cab set instead behaving like a singlet EMU would). Because every coach in the set has exactly alike 1st/2nd/3rd generation MLV properties, the MU’ing system can correct for the inert masses bookending the power cars. Something that would be ridiculously more difficult if you mixed any non-MLV coaches (single-levels, MBTA/MARC K-cars, SEPTA CRRC push-pull cars, anything Amtrak) in the same set, because the approximations of weight, etc. would be much less precise at a much clunkier ride quality. It remains to be seen how well they can pull it off in practice, but Bombardier is promising same performance as an all-powered set because the computer brains in the power cars will be precise enough to let the fairly brawny propulsion supposedly compensate exactly for the trailer mass.

            So unfortunately the alike-cars requirement is alive and well here, circumvented only by the very large pre-existing install base of MLV coaches making the scale much easier to take on. Likewise, the installed base of Bombardier BLV coaches making it much easier for GO Transit to adopt when Bombardier inevitably follows up this product with a “BLV EMU” power car for 8-inch boarding territory. Great starting scale for both the 8-inch and 48-inch boarding markets…but still not an “any-coach” interface, which is why you don’t see this product yet offered in any single-level form (BBD hasn’t made an FRA-compliant flat in over 20 years, and anything in their Euro catalog would need at least some design adaptations they aren’t going to attempt until the more lucrative MLV and BLV products are done). It’s also still not known at this date if NJT’s existing MLV coaches are going to be for-real plug-and-play with no mods whatsoever, or if the traditional push-pull HEP cable bundle is going to have to be supplemented by a new MU cable + computer telemetry box to aid the power cars with that inert mass. Which wouldn’t be more than a few hours and few grand’s worth of hardware mods per car if it came to that, so no biggie. But it would mean the interface is no longer a literal 100% off-shelf/plug-and-play affair.

            As for an “M8” coach…blech! Not with how overweight those things are. I’d rather see Kawasaki putting more R&D into their EMU’s interfacing with non-EMU trailers so a bar car or bike car can be refashioned from some generic old Comet or soon-to-be-surplus Amfleet rather than just taking the current overcustomized, overexpensive, morbidly obese M8 singlets and chopping off the pantograph and shoes. Make it so that one (and maybe only one) true “any-car” can be run in a set. It’s not quite the MLV scheme because it isn’t a break from how the M#’s have been put together from Day 1 and trailers won’t suddenly become the norm rather than the exception. But for all the beach/weekender commuters on the MTA and all the super-long trips it would be great to be able to stick one cheap specialty car at-will on select schedules that’ll drive business. I’m not against bar cars if customers want them…but the debate about making M8 bar cars was completely stupid for the insane conversion costs involved for those unicorn M8 singlets. That’s a job for a lightly-worn, cheaply-redecorated Shoreliner IV or aftermarket Amfleet Dinette passed on after their Amtrak replacement. Have Kawasaki figure out how to make one of those old disposables behave in the middle of an otherwise all-uniform M10 set.

          • adirondacker12800

            Nobody is electrifying to Springfield or Waterbury any time soon. Or rebuilding the patch of pavement by the side of the tracks so the car doesn’t need stairs.Trying to figure out how to get a few more years out of a small fleet in your 1,000 car MU fleet is looking at it backwards. Because with ridership growth the MU fleet will be bigger and there will be more demand on the obscure diesel branches with a patch of pavement by the side of the tracks. Where the ancient cars can toddle around until they are ready to be made into reefs. You want a cafe car on the Springfield to Wilmington Regional, use 25 year old Avelias. Because they are too slow for the Boston-Washington expresses. And too short.

  2. Max Wyss

    My neck hurts from all that shaking my head…

    Are these guys stuck in the last millennium??? They are a shame for their profession! It appears to me that these guys actively not do something someone in that position is supposed to do: keep themselves informed what is going on in the industry.

    I think one should nudge them onto the British Class 755 trains (aka BMU, aka bi-mode FLIRT) for Greater Anglia, which are getting rave reviews from the operator and the passengers. In particular the retractable step and the adjusted floor level make these trains fully accessible, and very highly appreciated by wheelchair-bound passengers. (well, it is easier to raise a low floor than to lower a high floor… and FLIRT IS a low-floor design).

  3. HaverstrawLife.com

    Why has no one started a conversation about electrification in the context of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act? Electrification is required. Why procure new stranded assets?

  4. Russell.FL

    The Danbury and Waterbury branches should both be electrified. However, those stubborn fools over at railroad.net say that it would have no benefit. Something about too many trees?

    • The Economist

      You need to understand the local economics and politics before making assertions whether some line should be electrified or not. The economics comes to this: in the US electrification is not worth it until you run 4 or more trains an hour. This is due to the excessive costs of the fixed infrastructure and the relative cheapness of diesel relative to electricity. On top of that you have politics: NIMBY opposition to catenary poles, electromagnetic fields and such. Additionally there is lack of care to provide really useful transportation as even in the NY region rail is still seen primarily as a commuter or poor people more of transportation. Electrification in the US might happen for another reason: environmental as a way to cut on the local pollution, but with current Tier IV locomotives that is at least two decades away.

      • F-Line to Dudley

        Danbury and Waterbury aren’t ripe for electrification yet because they both need to be expanded to make the investment pay off. As The Economist cites, service levels are far too anemic to amortize the investment in electrification. The lines need more avenues for service, and that’s going to require expansion projects more multidimensional than simply increasing frequencies on the stet shuttles.

        Waterbury’s future has it extended east to Hartford via the Highland Branch, covering a potentially ridership-lucrative stretch along a hellish I-84 commute in Central CT. ConnDOT studied it but sandbagged the estimate with fuzzy cost math; the ridership, however, projected strong. Your future Waterbury service pattern is likely going to ping Hartford-Devon with mainline transfers at each, and be operated not by Metro-North but ConnDOT & contractors grouped in with the Hartford Line. Only the trace amounts of GCT thru trains continuing to originate at Waterbury will be operated by MN, with greatly increased service to the transfers picking up the slack. If that’s the future canvas Waterbury service is going to be cast onto, it makes absolutely no sense to front-load any electrification until the Springfield Line is (1) first wired up, and (2) infilled robustly to full/final (i.e. not starter-construction) electrical and EMU fleet capacity. You need both New Haven Line and Hartford Line ends primed for it to make the expense of electrifying the connecting branch pay off right from Day 1. Since ConnDOT is almost as bad at sandbagging expansion projects as MassDOT, and the Springfield Line has a lot of further unfunded needs (primarily North Haven-Hartford grade crossing eliminations and their associated slow zones) that are almost as critical to performance and service quality as electrification…this is going to take awhile. It would take awhile even if the state had non-corrupt transpo planners…but, alas, they’re corrupt AND staring at a large bucket list.

        Danbury has had a stalled extension plan to North Danbury, East Brookfield, and New Milford that would rake in ridership from commutes on a gridlocked US 7 corridor. Lots of talk, no action from ConnDOT despite the numbers being slam-dunk good. They did a study of re-electrification several years ago, and basically it’s impossible to proceed without an up/down decision on the New Milford extension because it would change number and placement of substations. One decision can’t be made without the other…therefore no decision is being made at all. But if New Milford is to see service, the timetable is going to go far faster establishing it as a diesel extension and planning the electrification later. Further, Westchester County has just greenlit a study for Danbury-via-Harlem Line service using the short stretch of Maybrook Line trackage between Brewster and Danbury as a means of serving I-84 commutes to Westchester. That routing flavor has not been studied to death like the straight-on New Milford extension, but it also plays into the mix. First off, by giving the New Milford extension more urgency…second, by making Danbury a triple-junction of service patterns. Priority for funding electrification could jump considerably if that’s in-place, as the service levels from multiple directions would give the investment more payback on its own as opposed to just being “completist”. But you have to sort out the moving parts, and kick enough butt at CorruptDOT to get some honest answers.

        I agree that some of the “Pffft! Danbury doesn’t need electrification” critics are too rigid and short-sighted. But the need is also far from self-evident today with how marginal these branches are in their current config. The varied ways each could become a much LARGER and more important corridor with expansion are what you base the electrification build decision on…especially when the actual configuration of said electrification systems (substation size & quantity, fleet needs, etc.) changes considerably by what extension appendages are and aren’t there at the Danbury and Waterbury nodes. Figure all that stuff out first before proceeding. And prepare for it to take a little time in the real world to sort it…and a very lot of time, unfortunately, in CorruptDOT’s world.

  5. Roger Senserrich

    This meeting was so epically frustrating. ConnDOT and Metro-North officials spent most of their time trying to justify how a line upgrade that includes adding two sidings and signaling to a 20-mile single-track ranch line (the Waterbury branch) is going to take SEVEN years to accomplish. Despite this crazy time frame, they still have no idea about what equipment they are going to purchase or where let alone what the schedule is going to look like.

    The Waterbury Line used to be double-track, with full block signaling up until the fitties. Metro-North is seeking to restore 1890s level service and constantly complaining that this is a very complicated project, so excuse us for the constant delays. It is just depressing.

    • Nilo

      Sounds like a complete lack of engineering expertise and basic competence. Caltrain certainly no bastion of hyper efficiency is electrifying the main trunk in 2.5 years how is some basic track work so much more difficult?

      • Henry

        Well 2.5 years is just the construction. Caltrain electrification will be more like 12 years from initial approval and nearly 30 years from initial studies.

        • R. W. Rynerson

          29 years to be exact, Henry, I worked for the Port District on the first study of a Portland International Airport rail transit line in 1972. It opened in 2001. Recently I found a 1986 memo where I noted that the City and County of Denver had begun thinking about building a new airport connected with downtown by a rail transit line. The rail line opened in 2015. As both of those initial studies took place in a rail transit vacuum they were proposed as DIesel-operated, but good sense prevailed and plans evolved. Both lines ended up on their originally discussed alignments, but benefit as parts of networks.

  6. adirondacker12800

    the railroad is planning to buy 60 unpowered railcars.

    That can go into service as soon as they are accepted. To the patch of asphalt by the side of the tracks that passes for a station in places not served by M8s. Without any environmental review to speak of. Or NIMBYs filing lawsuits the BANANAs didn’t file.

    with a growing number of railroads electrifying

    it’s should be possible to get the clearances to do that over a decade or so. And a few years to install. After they remediate all the interesting things that have accumulated by the side of the tracks over the past 175 years. Unpowered cars can go into service as soon as they are accepted. To the patch of asphalt by the side of the tracks that passes for a station in places not not served by M8s. Or they can sit in traffic until 2040 or so.

    Dual-mode trains today are of low quality

    And beat the shit of changing trains in Newark. Or New Haven. Or Croton. It’s going to be diesel for quite a while. Even if money fell out of the sky, they have to clean up the stuff that has accumulated by the side of the tracks over the past 175 years, first.

    European trains to run on American tracks with minimal modifications

    That’s going so fabulously well for Caltrain, isn’t it?

    at this point I would not trust either side of any Amtrak-commuter rail dispute.

    Somebody has to find the money to rebuild the bridges that are limiting the amount of trains between New Haven and New London. If Connecticut wants to run more trains, particularly if those trains are M8s, they have to find the money and the will to replace the patches of asphalt by the side of the tracks. Unpowered cars can go into service as soon as they are accepted. Or they can sit in traffic until 2040.

  7. Nathanael

    These people are appointed by whom? Cuomo? The CT gov? Can we get some people with expertise into the governors’ offices and get them to appoint knowledgeable people?

  8. Herbert

    Usually in Germany it’s the Bürgerinitiativen that are uniformed, not the people at the head of the panel…

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