NEW YORK -- Amid the din of commuters rushing through an adjacent corridor at Grand Central Terminal, Stamford resident Evelyn Anastos told Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti that she is depending on a May scheduling change to make arrival times more dependable.
"If it is going to be an hour, I don't want it to say it is going to take 48 minutes," said the 51-year-old Anastos.
She was among more than a dozen commuters who waded into a chaotic scrum of railroad employees and television cameras near Grand Central's Track 30 on Wednesday to vent to Giulietti and other Metro-North higher-ups about delays on the New Haven Line and the railroad's other two lines.
The outing was the first of five scheduled forums in the next two months at which Giulietti has promised to speak to commuters at various train stations, as part of his 100-day plan unveiled earlier this month to bolster Metro-North's safety and reliability.
Giulietti and his management team spent about two hours listening to the Grand Central commuters, whose interest centered mostly on the railroad's plummeting on-time performance.
"It has gone from generally reliable to consistently unreliable," said Lloyd Trufelman, a Katonah, N.Y., commuter.
Anastos said the railroad should abandon its practice of considering commuter trains on time if they arrive within six minutes of schedule. Metro-North should aim for a higher standard, she said.
"They say that New York is a leader in a lot of things; it should be a leader in this," Anastos said. "They say it's on time, but in New York City it isn't."
Giulietti told Anastos that a new schedule to be put into effect on May 11 would do a better job reflecting real-world travel times, so riders would be able to choose the right train.
Addressing a large media contingent at the event, Giulietti said he believes the new schedule will take into account slower speeds in effect between New Haven and Stamford, and other factors, without diminishing the number of trains running.
"If you've been watching lately, a lot of what they cannot rely on was weather-related," Giulietti said. "I can't take credit for the weather getting better, but what I will take credit for is if we do a very good job in May of coming out with a schedule that balances our operations and is on time, going forward."
Max Maron, a 15-year-old high school freshman from Stamford and the son of Jeff Maron, a member of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, echoed Anastos in questioning Giulietti about the railroad's on-time performance.
"The new schedule should show the real-arrival times," Maron said.
Nicole Barbieri, a Milford resident and public school teacher in New York City, said that delays on the New Haven Line resulted in her missing some entire school days and arriving late other times during the late September power failure in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
"It's been very stressful, because I have a classroom full of students who I am responsible for, and if I'm late I have to call and have a substitute teacher come," Barbieri said. "It has consequences."
Another New Haven Line rider, Emily Rende, of Harrison, N.Y., told Giulietti she was fed up with fare increases that are rising as on-time performance has deteriorated.
"It's antiquated; the wires are overhead and are 100 years old," Rende said, after her speaking to Giulietti. "The fares go up while the service goes down, and it sucks. I spend $250 for a ticket a month, and I could lease a car with that."
Giulietti said he believes that interacting with riders at more regular intervals will be an important part of restoring the confidence of the railroad's ridership. And he said management considers commuters' opinions important.
"It gives them a sense we're not an aloof organization that doesn't care&," Giulietti said. Riders, he said, get "a comfort level" if they feel that railroad management "can appreciate and empathize with what is going on and tell (commuters) what they are going to do about it."
The other five forums scheduled are scheduled for:
May 1, Grand Central Terminal, Main Concourse, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
May 6, Croton-Harmon Station, 1 Croton Point Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., near the ticket office, north overpass from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
May 14, Harrison Station, 452 Halstead Avenue, Harrison, N.Y., on the eastbound platform from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.