Metro-North rail conductor writes apology for mix-up

Hartford - A conductor on the nation's second-busiest commuter railroad apologized Monday to riders in Connecticut for an express train that failed to show up, delaying their trip into New York City.

Michael Shaw had told passengers Friday at four stations along the Metro-North Railroad to wait for an express train that later was canceled. He says he put 500 copies of his written apology on rail car seats Monday morning.

In the note he addressed to "our friends and passengers," he said he was shocked and furious.

"I am as sick of apologizing to you as you are of hearing it," Shaw said.

Commuters have recently complained about overcrowded rail cars, forcing many to stand for much of their trips into Grand Central Terminal in New York. In January, downed wires left nearly 200 passengers stranded for about two hours in 10-degree weather in Westport.

Shaw, 48, president of the conductors union, said in an interview that Metro-North often apologizes, but not for every problem that occurs.

"I just did my own letter," he said. "I know a lot of the passengers."

Jim Cameron, a commuter advocate, said it's the first time he can remember a conductor apologizing in writing for Metro-North problems. Conductors have made "unofficial apologies" on the loudspeaker, but he's never known of a conductor leaving written apologies on rail car seats.

"That's extraordinary," Cameron said. "It not only speaks to the dedication of the employee but also the frustration they have with management and the embarrassment they have."

Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for Metro-North, said the rail service shares Shaw's concerns, but does "not condone his methods of communicating them."

"Mr. Shaw made assumptions about train service based on his long experience, but Metro-North operations managers can and do make changes based on the conditions they encounter," she said in an email.

Metro-North communicates schedule changes on its website, through an app and in text messages, email alerts and social media posts, she said. Anders could not immediately say whether passengers were notified.

Shaw has been working at Metro-North for 30 years and said he loves his job. "I love the people," he said.

He compared his work to postal carriers who know residents on their routes.

In addition, Shaw, who lives in North Haven, said he receives reports from his daughter who rides Metro-North daily.

"I get the complaints when I get home," he said.

For Metro-North, 2013 was among its worst years ever. A train derailed in Bridgeport in May, injuring scores of passengers. A track foreman was struck and killed less than two weeks later by a passenger train in West Haven. And four people died when a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx in December.

In September, the New Haven line was disrupted for nearly two weeks when a feeder cable failed. Con Edison had taken the other feeder cable out of service at the request of Metro-North to accommodate the railroad's work in Mount Vernon, N.Y.

"If you communicate, people will understand better," Shaw said. "It's when they sit there for 30 minutes and don't know what happened, that's upsetting."

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