By Scott Malone
Sept 26 (Reuters) - Connecticut’s governor said Metro North might be able to restore partial power to a vital rail line by the weekend so the thousands of his state’s residents who work in New York City, including Wall Street, can return to a more normal commute.
Utility crews struggled for a second day on Thursday to restore electricity to a rail line connecting New Haven and Stamford, Connecticut, to New York City, while the commuter railroad rolled out diesel locomotives to keep business from grinding to a standstill.
Residents of a wealthy section of the Northeast state, which includes hedge-fund capital Greenwich, were warned it could be weeks before service returns to normal, with the railroad down to one-third of its normal capacity.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, who ordered a halt to highway work on major roads into New York to ease traffic, said on Thursday that system operators would bring in backup power sources in place by the weekend.
“There is work underway to restore partial energy from other points to this system and we are hopeful that will occur some time over the weekend,” Malloy told reporters in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. “We need to communicate that no later than Sunday so that people will understand what our capacity will be on the system.”
He warned that the partial restoration of power likely would not be enough to restore full service.
The rail outage began on Wednesday morning when a high-powered electric cable serving a commuter rail line with an average daily volume of 125,000 riders failed at the same time that crews were working on the replacement of an alternate power line.
The line under maintenance had not been scheduled to be replaced until Oct. 13, a date that Malloy said could be pushed up to Oct. 7.
The outage affected not just commuters headed into New York, but many people who work in cities such as Stamford, where banks including UBS AG and the Royal Bank of Scotland maintain trading floors.
“I assume it’s going to take me at least an extra hour to get home,” said one Wall Street executive who opted to stay in Manhattan with a friend on Wednesday night rather than travel back to his home in Pound Ridge, New York, near the Connecticut border about 50 miles (80 km) away.
Joe Kirk, Wells Fargo & Co’s regional president for New York and Connecticut had to cancel a training meeting in New York because 25 people could not attend.
The power outage that prompted the rail delays occurred in Mount Vernon, New York, when a 138 kilovolt feeder cable failed. Consolidated Edison Inc crews are looking for alternative ways to power the rail line, while the failed cable and the alternate that was being repaired are restored.
“We’re working very closely with Metro North and looking at establishing alternative sources of power for the New Haven line,” said D. Joy Faber, a Con Ed spokeswoman. “Our crews are working diligently around the clock ... but this type of work, we’re looking at a couple of weeks here.”
Along the affected line, commuters’ tempers were fraying.
“It’s brutal,” said Jason Krumholz, 34, as he waited for a train in Milford, Connecticut.
“There’s no real schedule and nothing you can rely on,” said Krumholz, who works for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “I’ve been here over an hour and haven’t seen any signs of a train. If the train doesn’t come soon I may just have to go back home.”
Cynthia Jacobs gave up waiting for a train at the Milford station, where she normally begins her daily commute and instead drove west to Stratford.
“They told me the schedules were different and that I would get a train more quickly here,” she said. “But I have no idea how long it will be.”
But some commuters were surprised to find their trips less arduous than expected.
“My options were take a train from Old Greenwich to Rye and then be bused to White Plains and take a train to the city from there. Some people did that and it was a mess, basically doubles or more the commute,” said a consultant who works for banks and hedge funds, who declined to be named. “I figured it was worth a shot going the four miles up to Stamford and it was a winning strategy. Got to my meeting early, even had time to grab a coffee.”
Owen Gutfreund, an associate professor at New York’s Hunter College who specializes in transportation policy, said the projected length of the outage illustrates the weakness of the United States’ electrical grid, rather than problems in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest transportation network in North America.
“This could be an indicator of our under investment in maintenance and keeping up to date our infrastructure overall,” Gutfreund said. “It points out that the MTA is reliant on an electrical infrastructure that is crumbling.”
The outage comes four months after two Metro North trains collided on the same line during a Friday evening rush hour, injuring more than 70 people.