05.24.16

SCHUMER DEMANDS METRO-NORTH IMPROVE COMMUNICATION WITH RIDERS DURING EMERGENCIES FOLLOWING REPORTS THAT HUNDREDS OF HUDSON VALLEY COMMUTERS WERE LEFT STRANDED WITHOUT CLEAR DIRECTION ON HOW TO GET HOME DURING LAST WEEK’S FIRE

Metro-North Had Previously Pledged to Improve Communication with Commuters During Emergencies; Yet Reports Last Week Indicated Riders Were Only Given Limited Information About What to Do and How to Get Home During Service Outage

Schumer Pushes Metro-North to Make Good on Previous Commitments and Ensure Stations are Adequately Staffed with Clearly Identified Employees to Provide Directions During Emergencies

Schumer: Metro-North Communication Breakdowns Could Make Bad Situations Worse

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today demanded Metro-North Railroad conduct an immediate and thorough investigation to determine what went wrong when hundreds or even thousands of commuters were left stranded without clear direction on how to get home following a service outage caused by a fire beneath tracks outside of Grand Central Station. Schumer explained that, last week, there was a fire underneath Metro-North’s tracks in Manhattan’s East Harlem section, which severely disrupted train service to Westchester County and dozens of communities north of New York City. Following this incident, many customers reported that Metro-North’s communication during the emergency was inadequate, unavailable or confusing. For instance, Schumer said, riders reported that Metro-North did not have an adequate number of clearly identified staff members available in Grand Central Station providing clear instructions on alternative travel options. Schumer said this is unacceptable, and Metro-North should make good on its previous commitments to improving communication with travelers during emergencies.

“The bottom line is that Metro North's emergency communication system was not up to snuff during last week's emergency with nary an orange jacket to be found for thousands of nervous and stranded commuters -- and that is just not good enough. ‎Far too many commuters were frustrated and flummoxed by poor communication and left no guidance on alternate routes – or even worse, no way to get home or to work. That is why I’m strongly urging Metro-North launch a thorough and immediate investigation, so these gaps can be identified and improved so we can better ensure passenger safety, efficient travel and peace of mind going forward,” said Senator Schumer.

While Schumer highlighted that Metro-North’s top priority should remain the immediate safety of passengers on board trains in the area, and he applauded Metro-North’s efforts in that respect, he also highlighted that communication with commuters arriving at stations throughout the system during the emergency is critical and, in this case, was inadequate. In 2014, Metro-North established a 100-Day Action Plan aimed at addressing a number of long-standing issues. One of those issues was improving communication during service disruptions and emergencies. In fact, the 100 Day Action Plan listed the following action as “Completed”:

Implement a comprehensive service disruption operations plan in Grand Central Terminal to improve communication to our customers during service disruptions. This plan includes reestablishing the Management Emergency Response Team - Metro-North employees who are available and clearly identified so that customers can get ready answers to questions. Program will be implemented by April 1.

However, Schumer said this effort clearly still needs improvement, as riders were left stranded without clear direction on when service would be restored and potential alternative travel options during the outage in New York City last week. On top of this, several travelers reported that it was also difficult to clearly identify Metro-North staff in Grand Central during the chaos to ask for additional information, and public address system announcements were difficult to hear and understand. In one report, hundreds of commuters in Grand Central were told to take the D Train to the Fordham Rd. stop in the Bronx and then transfer to Metro-North at trains at the Metro-North Fordham Station. However, the D Train and the Metro North Stations are several blocks apart and there were not clearly identified Metro-North staff at either station directing commuters to the appropriate location.

All of these reports run counter to previous commitments by Metro-North to significantly improve communication during disruptions. Schumer therefore urged Metro-North to do everything possible to determine why the system did not work as well as it should have in this situation. Schumer said that more robust and clear communication during these circumstances would help improve safety, as well as lead to less frustration and confusion among travelers. Schumer said clear direction and notification of alternate routes to take home would also help ensure additional issues are not created during emergency situations. Schumer said an immediate and thorough investigation is needed so that Metro-North can improve safety and communication during these service disruptions. Schumer did highlight that Metro-North made some efforts to provide further information on their website and in the days that followed the fire, but pointed to their initial response in the hours immediately following the fire as something which needs dramatic improvement.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to Metro-North appears below:

Dear President Giulietti:

I write concerning the response to a fire underneath Metro-North’s tracks in Manhattan’s East Harlem section on Tuesday, May 17th. I understand the fire was not the fault of Metro-North and I appreciate the actions Metro-North took to help keep passengers safe during this emergency. However, I am concerned about Metro-North’s response in the hours and days that followed, and specifically how travelers were informed about alternative commuting options.

As you are aware, when you became President of Metro-North Railroad in 2014 you established a 100-Day Action Plan for the railroad that would address a number of long-standing issues. One of those issues, which you identified at the time and committed to addressing, was improving communication during service disruptions. Specifically, the 100 Day Action Plan said that the following action was “Completed”:

Implement a comprehensive service disruption operations plan in Grand Central Terminal to improve communication to our customers during service disruptions. This plan includes reestablishing the Management Emergency Response Team - Metro-North employees who are available and clearly identified so that customers can get ready answers to questions. Program will be implemented by April 1.

Following this week’s fire there were a number of reports that indicated that communication in Grand Central Terminal following the service disruption was inadequate. Customers were left stranded without clear direction on when service would be restored and potential alternative travel options during the outage. Furthermore there were a number of reports that customers were unable to clearly identify Metro-North staff in Grand Central to ask for additional information and direction from.

In addition to limited communication in Grand Central terminal, passengers also reported a lack of adequate information at other stations, including at Fordham Station in the Bronx, where some travelers from Grand Central were directed to go by Metro-North staff. It’s concerning that a staff member in Grand Central would direct travelers to take the D Train to Fordham Station to board Metro-North without Metro-North having already dispatched staff members to that station to direct passengers once they arrived. This is only one example, but I am certain similar situations occurred across the system following the disruption.

Given that this is an issue that has been identified before, I urge you to do everything possible to determine why the system did not work as well as it should have in this situation. I understand that in any emergency situation Metro-North’s number 1 response priority must be safety, and I support that position, but robust and clear communication with stranded commuters must also be part of that response, and can help ensure additional issues are not created.

Metro-North must make passenger communication a high priority, especially in response to service disruptions, and that communication needs to go beyond posting messages on websites and infrequent PA announcements that are often difficult to hear in crowded stations. Metro-North must make sure that there are an adequate number of clearly identified staff members in Station terminals and on Station platforms who are able to give clear directions on what to do as a result of the disruption, just as you committed to do in your 100 Day Action plan.  

Thank you in advance for your attention to this issue, should you need further information please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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