September 26, 2013 / 9:09 PM / 4 years ago

Connecticut commuters struggle with crippled railroad

Sept 26 (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers and corporate types used to Wall Street’s lightning pace, as well as ordinary Connecticut citizens, faced weeks of delays as a power outage on the Metro North railway brought their commutes to a crawl for a second day on Thursday.

Utility crews struggled 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 said on Thursday he was “frustrated” with the progress and encouraged residents to work from home if possible. He ordered a halt to all highway work on major roads into New York, to ease the flow of traffic from commuters who opted to drive to work.

Amtrak said its high-speed Acela service would not run between New York and Boston through Sunday.

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 planned replacement of an alternate power line.

It affected not just commuters headed into New York but the many people who work in cities including 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.

The executive, who said he was not authorized to talk to the media, said he was bracing for extended commutes over the next few weeks: “I already have heard that traffic is much worse.”

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.

Commuter Tim Francone gave up and headed to his car.

“I hate doing it,” he said. “I know how long I will be on the road at this time, but I can’t wait any longer.”

Cynthia Jacobs had given 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.”

One employee of a Greenwich-based hedge fund said he abandoned plans to drive to New York on Wednesday after it took him 45 minutes to drive the first 5 miles.

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 underinvestment 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.”

Connecticut’s governor, Malloy, called on residents to show patience.

“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,” he said on Thursday. “But until the problems are alleviated, we need to take whatever steps we can to help mitigate congestion on roadways.”

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.

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