Friday, November 29, 2013

Train To Nowhere, But Plenty Of Excuses

“The train to Grand Central Station is operating five to ten minutes late,” said the announcement over a surprisingly clear public address system.

I knew what that meant.

Not only would the train be late, it would be extra crowded. Metro North is quite predictable, unfortunately not because it honors its schedule so methodically but for quite the opposite reason. It’s consistently inconsistent.

Though the excuse doesn’t really matter, I asked the conductor of the late, overcrowded train, what the reason was for today’s transgression, the latest in a line of setbacks for a train system that finally replaced most of its old trains with new ones.

“Mechanical failure,” he assured me.

He saw doubt and incredulity when scanning my face.

“Brakes. A train in Greenwich had bad brakes," he followed up, as if I had asked another question.

“Ah, the all-inclusive mechanical failure,” I mumbled, and went back to reading my book.

It’s all lies.

I’ve been taking this train line for a decade and every time there is a delay, they say “due to mechanical failure,” but the truth goes beyond that. For once, I’d like to hear the following scenarios that may have caused a delay:

“The motorman overslept and screwed up our schedule.”

“The train was not properly maintained and because of our incompetence, it doesn’t work today."

“We’re purposely screwing with the trains today as the union’s way to protest a proposed new contract from management.”

“These new trains are overly sensitive to perfect weather and malfunction in the most inopportune time.”

“Even though we jack up the fare almost every year, we didn’t budget to actually fix the broken trains.”

“The motorman had to run to the bathroom because he ate and drank too much the night before, flushing rush-hour down the drain.”

“The train couldn’t leave without the motorman, who was delayed after a quickie with a passenger.”

Maybe none of the above are true, but I know it’s not just random bad luck that there’s mechanical failure paralyzing new trains. Either mechanical failure strikes so often due to poor maintenance and inspection or because the newly purchased trains are inherently defective. Neither scenarios pleases me. But I think half the time it’s not mechanical failure, but rather human error. The train system runs, not on tracks, but on people. And people mess up all the time.

It would be nice to see someone take accountability for the system’s shortcomings. I’d love to see a press conference held where the Mass Transit Authority admits someone fell asleep at the switch -- perhaps literally -- and at least humanizes the situation.

But in the end, all we want is better service. I just hope the fare doesn’t need to rise again just to achieve mere competence and mediocrity. 

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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