Knocked off track 2 days by RR collision, Westporters adapt routines
Updated 12:39 pm, Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Westport resident Carl Lindahl has been commuting into New York City by train for at least 10 years.
His confidence in area and town officials' ability to handle commuter problems was reinforced this week in the wake of Friday's train collision in Bridgeport, which interrupted service along the New Haven line and caused many commuters to drive or take buses.
"I think initially when we heard about the accident and all it was going to take to study the accident and remove the train cars, make repairs and get the train service up and running, we were all anticipating a much longer delay in service," Lindahl, a televisions executive, said Tuesday morning in a phone interview from New York City.
According to Metro-North Railroad, full service along the New Haven line is expected to be ready for Wednesday's morning commute.
"I think everyone is hoping they're right," Police Chief Dale Call said Tuesday.
Despite serving as the "all-points-west" for many Metro-North commuters Monday and Tuesday morning, the patchwork transit network based at Westport's Saugatuck station operated as well as could be expected, Call said. Railroad Place was shut down to pickups and dropoffs to accommodate the steady stream of commuter buses that ran on a loop between Bridgeport and Westport.
Westport was the first station for "limited" rail service westward to New York City, while just to the east, all three Fairfield stations had no rail service and buses filled the gap for passengers taking trains running from New Haven to the temporary terminus in Bridgeport.
Earlier reports from Metro-North had indicated that South Norwalk would be the nearest station west of the derailment to offer train service, and First Selectman Gordon Joseloff thought that might have contributed to the relative lack of commuters descending on Westport's station Monday.
"We're concerned that once people figure out trains are running, it's going to be a little bit trickier tomorrow," Joseloff said Monday. "I think a lot of people were not aware that there were trains running out of Westport."
Routines disrupted by service interruption
That wasn't because of the anticipated inconvenience of the trip back home. No, Routhier wasn't planning to return till Wednesday night because she had planned her schedule around the anticipated delays.
"I'm actually staying in the city (with relatives) and coming back out Wednesday and working from home Thursday and Friday," Routhier, 47, who lives in Fairfield, said Monday
She might change her mind now the Metro-North has announced full service along the New Haven line was expected to resume Wednesday morning.
"We are confident that the reconstruction work, inspection and testing will be completed in time for a normal rush hour on Wednesday," said Metro-North President Howard Permut. "We are grateful for the tireless work of all departments and employees engaged in this huge task."
Routhier, a textile designer, normally takes the 6:40 a.m. train from Fairfield to Grand Central Terminal, but service was suspended out of all three Fairfield stations as crews cleaned up Friday's rush-hour accident. So Routhier had her husband drive her to Westport, the closest open station, to catch the 9:37 a.m. train to New York City -- well after the expected morning rush-hour crunch.
Two days of coping
Not everyone had similar options, and as expected more commuters descended on the Saugatuck station Tuesday morning.
"We were far busier today than we were yesterday, but we expected that," Call said.
Lindahl boarded the 7:55 a.m. train from Westport to Grand Central Terminal on Monday and Tuesday. Usually when the train departs Stamford, at least a dozen people are standing in the aisles and vestibules, Lindahl said. On Monday morning, however, the car was only about 25 percent full in Stamford.
"Clearly, lots of commuters decided to either take earlier trains, stay home or use alternate transportation," Lindahl said.
Tuesday's commute was slightly more difficult, he said.
"I was expecting today to be very congested because I thought the people who said (Monday), `Let's wait this out,' would come to work today. Indeed there were more people on the road in terms of getting to the train station. But not terribly. It wasn't a big difference."
According to Metro-North, 120 buses were hand Monday with no overcrowding reported.
"The local municipalities offered tremendous support, with signs, special lanes, satellite parking and police assistance and Metro-North is grateful for this very high level of cooperation, which ensured the operation's success," said Susan Doering, Metro-North's vice president of customer service and stations.
Most commuters didn't complain, despite minor confusion because New York-bound trains were departing alternately from both passenger platforms of the Saugatuck depot.
"It's an inconvenience," said Cheryl Thompson of Weston, who commutes into Grand Central Terminal every day.
"They're doing the best they can," she said. "I'm glad to learn there is limited service."
Though Thompson and others were disappointed there wasn't a formal schedule for the morning rush, officials at the station said trains were leaving every half hour.
Buses bridged the service gap to Fairfield, taking riders back and forth on a continuous loop to Fairfield Center, Fairfield Metro and Bridgeport stations. While buses appeared to be running smoothly, one driver said not everyone had the directions, which caused minor confusion.
John Kennedy of Westport was delayed coming home Friday night because the collision shut down traffic on the entire New Haven line, but got a ride out of South Norwalk with "some very nice Westporter."
"I'm amazed they have the trains going today, to tell you the truth," he said, glad to be making his regular commute into New York from the station.
Bridgitt Labosky of Bridgeport, however, who commutes to South Norwalk every day, was frustrated to find the change from bus to train was going to make her so late that she would miss her bus on the other end.
"I'm going to be late," she said. "I have to take a taxi. Now I have to spend more money, (but) what are you going to do?"
Correspondent Jarret Liotta contributed to this report.