By Christine Dempsey and Kelly Glista, The Hartford Courant
NEW HAVEN — As commuters coped Thursday with a second day of severely reduced train service between Stamford and New York City, work began to restore partial power and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy suggested that Metro-North consider a refund for inconvenienced customers.
Commuters crowded onto fewer trains, sat in highway traffic, found creative ways to get to work or stayed home Thursday morning, the day after an electrical failure forced Metro-North to suspend commuter rail service between the two cities.
The electrical problem could take several weeks to repair fully, leaving limited service available to the 125,000 people who use the New Haven Line each day, officials said. Metro-North has been using diesel trains and buses to get some commuters back and forth, but it is operating at about one-third of its normal capacity.
Standing in Grand Central Station on Thursday, Malloy said that work was underway to restore partial power to the New Haven Line as early as Saturday, but even then, he said, it was uncertain how many trains could use that limited power.
He also expressed frustration with yet another commuter nightmare in Connecticut, and said he has spoken with Metro-North about the need for a refund policy for inconvenienced riders.
“This is a failure, for one reason or another, of the system,” he said.
Malloy also directed the state Department of Transportation to stop all routine road maintenance in lower Fairfield County to allow for better traffic flow.
As commuters found ways around the problem — leaving earlier or later, carpooling, working at home, traveling to the Harlem Line trains in New York — traffic through southwestern Connecticut was not much worse Thursday than on any other day, DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.
“We’ve been given the go-ahead to pull out all the stops to keep traffic going,” he said.
Malloy said that the outage happened when a 138-kilovolt Con Edison feeder line in Mount Vernon, N.Y., was taken out of service for repairs and another feeder that provided power to the Metro-North trains failed. He said that kind of maintenance will be ongoing throughout the system, so that all the providers involved need to learn from the latest problem and ensure that a similar power failure does not happen again.
“Needless to say, I am frustrated at this situation and continue to press the folks at Con Ed and Metro-North to fix it as quickly as possible,” Malloy said in a written statement Thursday. “But until the problems are alleviated, we need to take whatever steps we can to help mitigate congestion on roadways.”
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, released a letter that he wrote to the director of the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the president of Metro-North requesting an action plan to provide better information in emergency situations.
“Metro-North has continually made a pledge to provide accurate, timely and meaningful information on service conditions to keep their customers informed and allow them to plan for their trip wherever they are,” Duff’s letter said. “This was not the case yesterday, which led to a lot of confusion, misinformation and delay.”
Even before 7 a.m. on Thursday, New York-bound traffic on Route 15, the Merritt Parkway, had slowed to a stop between exits 48 and 41, said Rachel Lutzker, traffic reporter for FOX CT.
“It looks like a parking lot right now,” she said at 7 a.m.
At 9 a.m., the drive on that stretch of the parkway was taking about a half-hour, Lutzker said, while the trip on I-95 south from Bridgeport to Stamford was taking about 70 minutes.
But the DOT reported that traffic on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway was only slightly heavier than normal for a weekday morning, Malloy said.
The suspension of road construction on I-95, the Merritt Parkway, Route 1, Route 7, Route 123 and other busy roads will continue until further notice, Malloy said. That suspension includes a major lane expansion project on I-95 in Norwalk, but it does not include bridge maintenance, which is done at night. Night work will be stopped and cleared by 6 a.m., Malloy said.
Other work to be halted includes mowing, patching roads, clearing brush from catch basins, trimming trees and redoing line striping on roads.
Also, DOT’s service patrol trucks — the large orange vehicles with flashing lights that assist motorists whose vehicles have broken down — have been placed at various points along I-95 to help get those vehicles off the road faster.
During peak travel hours, New Haven Line trains are running between Stamford and Grand Central every 20 to 30 minutes, Metro-North said. During off-peak hours, trains leave every half hour and make all local stops between the stations.
In addition to the limited train and bus service on the New Haven Line, shuttle train service was provided on the Danbury and New Canaan branches starting Thursday morning, Metro-North said. Bus service was provided on the Waterbury branch.
The shuttle service on the Danbury branch is making all stops to and from South Norwalk, and the service on the New Canaan branch is making all stops to and from Stamford.
Amtrak service to and from Penn Station in New York also has been delayed by the electrical problems. Amtrak’s Acela Express service between New York and Boston was suspended Wednesday and will stay offline through Sunday, the company said. Passengers are advised to call ahead (1-800-872-7245) before arriving at the station.
New Haven Line tickets continue to be honored on the Harlem Line, which runs from Southeast, N.Y., to Grand Central.
The power outage comes less than five months after a New Haven Line train derailed and crashed into another train near the Fairfield-Bridgeport border, creating major commuting problems for about a week. More than 70 people were injured in that crash, which tore up 2,000 feet of track and kept trains from passing through the area.
The updated service schedule is available on both the Metro-North and state DOT websites.