Heavy Traffic, But Metro-North Commuting Plan Went Smoothly

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BRIDGEPORT — Traffic was heavy and trains ran a few minutes late, but the plan to move thousands of workers around crippled rail lines in Bridgeport went smoothly during Monday’s commute.

A derailment and crash on Friday evening injured more than 70 people and damaged rail lines. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said commuters should expect delays and disruptions throughout the week for commuters who drive or take the Metro-North Commuter Railroad into New York City as the investigation and repairs continue.

Traffic volume on Interstate 95 south in Bridgeport, which normally lessens around 8:30 a.m., remained very heavy between Bridgeport and Norwalk until 9 a.m. Traffic was also heavy on the Merritt Parkway, and an increased state police presence was reported along the route as well.

Shuttle trains were organized to get commuters from New Haven to Bridgeport, where buses are taking commuters to the Stamford station.

All went going according to plan, said Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan. Delays of up to 10 minutes were reported on trains from Stamford to Grand Central Terminal. The Hudson and Harlem lines also ran smoothly, he said.

In Stamford, Metro-North employees stood in front of the station, assisting passengers arriving on shuttles and giving them information about when next train leaves.

Ruth Esbri lives in Middletown. Usually she takes a train from Milford all the way into Grand Central, but on Monday, she used the shuttle system.

After getting dropped off in Stamford, she stood outside the station trying to orient herself.

“I had to get off at Bridgeport, get on a bus. Now I have to get on another train,” she said.

Esbri usually gets to work in New York around 8:30 a.m. She left at her usual time on Monday but was nowhere close to making it in on time.

“I timed it. I was on the train at Milford at 7:02, got to Bridgeport at 7:12, got on the bus right away, and I’m here now,” she said just before 9 a.m.

Sandra Troncoso of Bridgeport took the shuttle from Bridgeport to Stamford.

“It took an hour longer,” she said. “A 20-minute wait, and then an hour on the bus because of traffic.”

Karl Brewer, 31, of Bridgeport works in Stamford. It took him over an hour to get there on the shuttle.

“Normally it takes like half an hour,” he said. Brewer said there wasn’t a long wait for the shuttle, but there was “a lot of traffic on the highway.”

Andrew Sanmarco, of New Haven, got off a bus in Stamford and shook his head.

“Two hours,” he said. “Two hours.”

Sanmarco works in Stamford and usually has an hour commute. Monday it took 2 hours and 20 minutes, with an hour and 35 minutes on the bus between Bridgeport and Stamford.

The drop-off and pick-up was the most difficult aspect of the commute at Stamford. The normal drop-off area was blocked off to allow room for the shuttles to pull in. Several additional police officers were directing traffic.”They’re doing the best they can,” he said. “They’re pretty well organized. The cops were there, directed everybody to the buses. Off and away we went.”

The heaviest part of the rush ended around 8 a.m. in Stamford. For the next hour, the only people arriving were those who took buses from Bridgeport. The shuttle system was not being heavily used.

Some riders were reporting standing-room-only conditions as trains approached New York.

Sandy McKissick of Madison works in the city. He was taking a train from New Haven toward Bridgeport around 6 a.m. Monday.

“It seems like they have a pretty good plan in place … I am optimistic,” he said. The station isn’t “anywhere near normal. It’s normally crowded.”

McKissick said he usually takes the 5:55 a.m. train into the city and that he didn’t really change his travel plans in light of the services changes.

Dashon Burton of New Haven said he travels into the city one or two days a week for work, today being one of the only days this week he needed to get in. He said he came a little early.

“It must be really intense getting into town for 9 a.m.,” he said.

Until repairs are complete, trains will run about every 20 minutes between New Haven and Bridgeport on the New Haven line during peak commuting hours. Shuttle buses will take commuters between Bridgeport and Stamford, bypassing the site of the accident between the Bridgeport and Fairfield stations. Commuters can take an express bus or a bus stopping at the Fairfield Metro, Fairfield and Westport stations.He said he thinks there has been a “Herculean effort” put into the service this morning and wasn’t too concerned about being late because of service changes.

Regular service will run from Stamford and South Norwalk stations to Grand Central Terminal in New York City; limited service will run from Westport.

Fairfield police had prepared for a frenzied commute. On the department’s Facebook page Sunday, it warned: “Commuters need to be prepared for a long commute on Monday. Please make alternate plans and please consider staying home if possible.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy predicted that Monday’s commute would be “extremely challenging.”

“We want to limit to the greatest extent the number of people using the highway system because we know it is going to be well over capacity,” Malloy said.

“To everyone that uses the highway system, consider carpooling,” he added. “We really need you to do this. I am not simply talking to people who use the train system normally.”

Average weekday traffic on the New Haven line is 125,000 passengers, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Amtrak service continues to be suspended between New York and New Haven, with limited Amtrak service available between Boston and New Haven.

The MTA, which operates the Metro-North trains, began removing the trains Saturday night. By Sunday night, 13 of the 16 derailed cars had been removed, and the other three will be removed within the next 24 hours, Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut said.

Of the more than 70 people injured in the crash, seven remained hospitalized on Sunday, with one reported in critical condition, officials said.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board, who have been on the scene since Saturday, said they have ruled out foul play as a cause of the derailment, but would not speculate beyond that. They released the site to Metro-North Sunday so restoration can begin; additional on-scene investigation could continue for several days.

After the trains are removed, MTA officials said crews face the longer, more difficult task of repairing the damage to the track.

“Our crews will essentially be rebuilding 2,000 feet of damaged track, and overhead wires and signal system,” Permut said in a statement. “This amounts to the wholesale reconstruction of a two-track electrified railroad. It will take multiple days of around-the-clock work to do that, and then to inspect, test and requalify the newly rebuilt infrastructure. Unfortunately, service disruptions on this section of the New Haven Line are expected to continue well into the coming week.”

Investigators said on Saturday evening that they found a fracture in a section of the eastbound track, where the derailment apparently began. But the investigators are unsure whether the fracture happened before the derailment or as a result of it.

Safety board officials said those sections of the rail are being sent to the agency’s laboratory in Washington, D.C., for further analysis.

NTSB investigators said MTA has been responsive to requests for maintenance and inspection reports on the cars of the two trains involved, and will conduct a full inspection. The train that previously traveled that route also will be inspected.

“None of this is going to happen quickly,” said Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, adding that the NTSB investigation can’t be rushed because the cause of the accident needs to be discovered to prevent it from happening again.

“Commuters should leave early, think creatively and don’t all drive to Stamford,” Cameron said.

“This is unknown territory to a lot of these people,” he said.

Of the 48 people seen at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, two people were still at the hospital Monday morning and remained in good condition, spokeswoman Lucinda Ames said.The derailment took place at 6:10 p.m. on Friday, when the eastbound 4:41 p.m. train out of Grand Central Terminal in New York went off the tracks just east of the Fairfield Metro station, said Marjorie Anders, an MTA spokeswoman. It then hit the side of a westbound 5:35 p.m. Metro-North train from New Haven on the adjacent track. Some cars on the second train also derailed, Anders said.

At Bridgeport Hospital, 23 people were treated and released. One person remains there in critical condition and two others are in stable

condition, hospital spokesman John Cappiello said Monday morning.

Passengers said they felt a harsh bump and saw a lot of dust and smoke in the air as the train derailed. Malloy said it appeared that one train began to derail as it approached the other, and the trains hit side-to-side.

Malloy said most of the injuries were in the cars that collided with each other, mainly the front car of one train and the third car of the other.

An NTSB team began a first round of interviews Sunday with the crews from the eastbound and westbound trains, the agency’s Earl Weener said.

Officials have already downloaded data on speed and braking from recorders on board the trains, Weener said.

At the time of the accident, Weener said, the trains were moving at about 70 mph – a typical speed for the line. Review of the data will continue on scene and in Washington, D.C.

“All of the teams have been working around the clock to gather information and facts that will help us determine what caused the accident and what we can do to prevent it from happening again,” Weener said.

Weener estimates the full report on the accident could take up to a year.

View the photo gallery online: www.courant.com.

By NICHOLAS RONDINONE and JENNY WILSON, Hartford Courant

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