First the good news, and then the good news: Not only was the Monday commute in lower Fairfield County reasonable, but the president of Metro-North said full train service will return 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.
The late-afternoon news release from Metro-North said, “About 100 workers are on the job, which has been ongoing around the clock since Saturday night when the National Transportation Safety Board completed its initial investigation of the scene and allowed Metro-North to begin removing the two, 8-car trains.”
Meanwhile, “carmeggedon” — in other words, a difficult commute — had been predicted for Monday by the chairman of Connecticut’s Commuter Rail Council. But Jim Cameron was pleasantly surprised.
“All I’ve heard from commuters is, ‘Wow, where were the crowds?’ ” Cameron said.
Friday’s train collision on the Metro-North New Haven line prompted a major disruption in service, affecting tens of thousands of commuters on the busiest single rail line in North America.
Anyone who commuted on the segment of track between Bridgeport and the Stamford-Norwalk area — as many as 30,000 people, according to official estimates — was ushered off the train and onto substitute bus service. Then, the dire forecasts went, those 120 buses, provided by Metro-North and the state Department of Transportation, would hit I-95 South, joining more commuters who had driven to work, jamming the highways even more than usual.
The buses will be offered Tuesday, as well.
But apparently, at least on Monday, commuters listened to pleas from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and from local and transportation officials to avoid rush hour travel at all costs.
New Haven’s Union Station at 7:15 a.m. Monday was eerily quiet. Hardly anyone was waiting for the trains that would shuttle them to Bridgeport, after which, anyone going farther south would have to board a bus. And at the Bridgeport station, a slew of empty buses waited for passengers to stream in.
“I was expecting more people to be on the train,” said Janet Piselli, who lives in Milford and commutes daily to Fairfield.
Roger Michele, a barber and real estate broker who was heading to New York City to do some personal family research, said he found it easier than usual to park at New Haven’s train station. Normally, the station garage’s 1,100 spaces are all taken by 8 a.m.
“Usually, you can’t park till you get to the top of the parking garage…today, there was plenty of parking before that,” he said.
According to Metro-North, about 750 people took advantage of the shuttle trains and buses at Bridgeport to Stamford, or about 20 percent of the 4,000 rush hour riders from New Haven, Milford and Stratford.
Those who did brave the bus-train combo commute Monday took it in stride.
“It’s an adventure,” said Michele, who lives in Bristol and drove 40 minutes to the New Haven station. “I would much rather take a train so I can relax going in and then relax coming back.” He expected his trip to Grand Central to take about two and a half hours, as opposed to the normal hour and forty-five minute ride. (It most likely took longer due to the normally terrible traffic that his bus would encounter on I-95 South, from Bridgeport to Stamford.)
Piselli’s New Haven-Milford route, which she said usually takes her 40 minutes door-to-door, was extended by about half an hour. She had the option to drive, she said, but “it was either a nightmare on the bus or a nightmare sitting on 95…and I paid for these [train] tickets.”
Ian Edmiston, a student at Fordham University in New York, was on his way to visit a friend in New Haven. Unsure what to do, he asked Metro-North staff at the Fordham train station how to get there.
“[They] said, ‘Take the Metro-North to Stamford, and get on the connection to Westport, and then from there get on a bus, and then you go to Bridgeport, and take the train to New Haven,” he remembered, laughing.
“I’ve been replaying that in my head 10 times so I don’t forget it.”
Rail officials have said that repairs to 2,000 feet of damaged track will continue well into this week. As late as Monday afternoon, a few rail cars remaining on the tracks from Friday’s crash were still being removed.
Federal investigators say they do not think foul play caused the accident, but will not speculate on what may have caused it.