Sunday, February 02, 2014

An open letter to my passengers

Dear Passengers,

Please put the pitchfork and lanterns down.
 I come in peace

First, let me explain that the train crews are on your side.  We are not the enemy… We really do want your trains to be on time…really we do.  But there are these things called signals, speed limits and speed restrictions, and we have to adhere to them…it’s the law.  And now we have these pesky Federal Railroad Administration agents looking over our shoulders, and they’re in “Deep Dive” and there’s no sign of them coming up for air.  Besides, we hate to be late for our coffee breaks…  It makes us cranky.
They say the foundation of every great railroad starts at the track bed, and ours has fallen into disrepair.  Some years back, someone thought it would be a great idea to replace wooden railroad ties, which had been in place since the Lincoln Administration, with newfangled concrete ties.  The idea was that concrete would last forever and would be virtually maintenance free.  Well, as it turns out, forever meant 10 years. Without proper drainage concrete ties dissolve like Alka Seltzer tablets in a 10 ounce glass of water, and before you can say “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” the concrete melted into mud holes.  Soon the ride into Grand Central became more frightening than “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”...and this is the basis of our current problems. 

 You can’t blame train crews for the bad track bed… can you? 
You want to talk train cleanliness?  Yep, we’re all for that too, especially when we have cockroaches the size of Smart Cars crawling into our railroad bags.  “They” say they can’t dump the toilets or give the trains a thorough cleaning since the turn times are too tight.  Yeah…we’re not buying that excuse either.  If Jet Blue can clean a jumbo jet on tarmac in Newark, I’m pretty sure a car cleaner can spot mop an M8 car in Grand Central.

Communication?  I know this has always been a big point of contention, but your conductor can only inform you if he/she has been informed…and with the advent of Twitter and social media, the riding public is way ahead of us.  For instance, I learned about the derailment in Bridgeport from a passenger a good five minutes before I heard about it on the railroad radio. But communication is a two way street...and sometimes you folks just don’t listen.  Here is a transcript of a conversation I had with a passenger last Thursday night just after I finished making announcements that the whole railroad had been shut down and that there would be an indefinite delay:
Passenger: Conductor, can I get on another train?
Me: No, sorry the whole railroad is shut down.

Passenger: Then can I get on a train going in the opposite direction?

Me: No, sorry, no trains moving, indefinite delay.

Passenger: So... how long will it be?

Me: Indefinite delay...meaning we don't know how long.

Passenger: I KNOW what indefinite means.

So, as enjoyable as it is to verbally berate your conductor, or however thrilling it is to give the finger to your engineer when he pulls into your station 15 minutes late, remember…WE’RE NOT THE PROBLEM!  Could we apologize for the delays a little more frequently?  Sure we could!  Could we be a little more pleasant? Certainly!  But remember, we’re human too folks, and you are far from the first or last person that day to growl at us…call us hurtful names… or refuse to pay for this “terrible service.”  In addition to this, we have our regular cast of drunks, fare beaters, and deviants (some are even fellow employees).  As humans, we may get defensive or become apathetic and shut down.  We need to work on that.

Here’s what I propose for incoming Metro North President Joe Giulietti:

Dear Joe,
I know we don’t know each other very well, but you always struck me as a very nice guy.  I remember that your cat and my cat came from the same litter, so that means we’re practically related, so I hope you listen to the following suggestions:

First, I would like you to propose a “Quality of Life Initiative" like Rudy Giuliani did in NYC.  A lot of our problems have to deal with perception, so treat the trains like 42nd Street AND CLEAN THEM UP! I'm far from a neat nick, but even I'm disgusted by the condition of our trains. The floors are filthy, the bathrooms haven't been dumped and they're without toilet paper. Too many cars have roaches crawling around, so treat the roaches like Rudy treated the peep shows...make them disappear.
Second, with all these new cars...why are there still seating shortages? Even Bloomberg put seating in Time Square....and that's "The crossroads of the world."

Third: Communicate-Communicate-Communicate! It's like pulling teeth to get information out of the RTC's sometimes (i.e. Where is our connection?') How can we do our "Community Policing," if we're not informed? Even the passengers know more than we least they have Twitter to tip them off.
Fourth: Whatever happened to car inspectors actually inspecting trains before departure? I know they used to do it...doesn't seem like it happens anymore. Like they say...if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.
Yours truly,

So you see commuters, we train crew members really do care.  Now if you’d only put the pitchforks down!!!


mtaHarlemLine said...

Well said, sir.

mtaHarlemLine said...

Well said, sir.

JPizzle said...

Well said Bobby! I have much respect for you and all conductors, especially during these times. During my commutes to work, passengers were just so rude and mean for any issue that were clearly out of their hands. You guys/gals are the eyes and ears, and the face on mnrr but you're unfortunately crapped on more times than not! Part of the many reasons I've wanted to be a conductor, minus the being crapped on part! lol

Anonymous said...

Well put, Bobby. Mr. Giullietti has a lot of work ahead of him. Lets be patient, and keep our fingers crossed.

Keith Charles Edwards said...

Put down your work, if that be the case. First, get the passengers on your side. Those nasty roaches come from the unclean sewers, drains and those under floor locker rooms under Tracks 23-25, etc. Clean out those places. You have a public health hazard. End it, now.

Anonymous said...

Bobby, thank you very much. I give you an A+ on this! :-)


Anonymous said...

Bobby, thank you for speaking on our behalf. A+


Anonymous said...

Well bobby you bash the coach cleaners how many of you conductors throw seat checks on the floor or make the cabs in to your personal garbage pails.answer me that o and how about the commuters that leave there garbage behind

Unknown said...

Very well said!!

William Judisky said...

Well said Bobby. One who worked in the track dept and was involved with replacing wood with concrete ties in the 90' the then President Nelson saw concrete used in europe then decided we needed them here , got the funding replaced strted to replace the ties. It worked in europe but the preparation there was differenent then here.No body questioned it He left So you are right in all thai you said

zigglet said...

I was involved in the 90's when then President Don Nelson saw concrete being used in europe. Got thefunding brought the idea over here there was no real prep work done to the track bed and only after it was started was any attempt made to correct it. Then too late ! So I agree with you Bobby in all that you said Thank you for all you wrote

Anonymous said...

I Believe He Bashed The Ppl In Charge Of WheN An How, Not Who Does The Actual Cleaning. Just Saying

Johnny Coffeecups said...

Thank you Bobby !!! You are a man of calm and reason. Geez, I'm going to buy you the biggest cup of coffee you've ever seen !!!!!

Marc Wietzke said...

Bobby, your comments are as on point as a well-tended switch. Your observations echo the feeling of members of other crafts. I'd like to share your post at my own site,

Anonymous said...

As one of these pitchfork carrying commuters, here's my take:

Telling commuters that you're not the enemy while at the same time telling them to put their "pitchforks and lanterns down" and saying that commuters "just don't listen" doesn't exactly sound like you "come in peace."

No one I know has ever blamed the train crews. We know it's not a crew issue. We're finally vocalizing all the problems (that make your job difficult!) and we get the cranky conductor response. We've helped bring these issues to light.

We also understand all these rules you condescendingly described- if there had been better and consistent maintenance of the tracks, there wouldn't be so many signal and track problems that cause these daily delays. We're mad at that and not the conductors who don't really have that much control over it.

But I agree with everything else in your letter. I wish you spent more time on those issues instead! Let's clean up the cars, let's have more seats for riders, and let's have better communication! Those are all things commuters want and deserve. We should be working together towards the same goals.

Anonymous said...

Someone should send this to gov Malloy. In his press conference yesterday he said fixing our power problem will fix most if not all our probkems !!!

Anonymous said...

Hello Bobby, please take the time to read this entire comment and please post it to the readers of your blog. Never have I felt more compelled to reply to a blog. I find this letter very offensive. I am neither a car cleaner, car inspecter or RTC. I am a supervisor in the Power Department but I think how you throw other departments under the bus on a public blog is very uncalled for. I would expect someone with 25+ years on the railroad to have a little more discretion. You feel the commuters should be more understanding and more respectful and I agree with that 100%. You want them to stop going to you with complaints that are out of your control. Well guess what, thats never going to happen. The simple fact being that CONDUCTORS are the one craft that the commuters see 90% of the time. You are the face of the railroad and thats your job to deal with the public. Of course people will be upset and complain if they are late for work, a party, etc. Should they be disrespectful to the train crew? Of course not. You should state your case about how you feel conductors should be treated and leave it at that. Dont bring other crafts into it. Commuters dont care about signals and speed restrictions and whether or not you can get a hold of the RTC right away. They dont understand it because they dont WORK for the railroad. YOU do. Thats not thier problem. They are paying for a service and want to get to thier destination on time. You should take a look around at other crafts at Metro North. Your complaining about commuters giving you a hard time about delays and bugs in the cars. How about the RTC's? Maybe the reason you cant get a hold of them is because there dealing with a train stuck somewhere, or a faulty switch, or track dept making a repair, or getting a train out of a yard. All at once. There dealing with dozens of trains carrying thousands of people. How about the Power Dispatchers that have to safely energize and de-energize high voltage electricity in order to keep employees and contractors safe and keep electricity going to your train? How about the linemen, third railmen, and substation gangs that work for a week straight in 5 degree weather trying to get the electrical traction system back on line after a storm or damage so conductors dont have to deal with the "stress" of lining up thier train with those "pesky" bridge plates. They dont get "coffee breaks" like the ones you would prefer not to be "late for." Your complaints are petty. The next time a commuter berates you or flips you off think about the guy that hasn't seen his family in a week and isn't complaining about it because thats his job. And then you say "we (conductors) are not the problem.." Really?? What are you guys levitating above the rest of us? You never make a mistake?? Come on. I will not get into that further on a public blog but WE ALL makes mistakes and in order for the service to improve WE ALL have to work TOGETHER. I dont know you personally although I have friends who are conductors who say you are very nice guy and I really think you should look at the big picture before you write a letter saying that other crafts dont do thier jobs. Maybe you should be a little more respectful towards your fellow union brothers and sisters, since you want the commuters to be a little more respectful to you.
Thank you for hearing my side.

*I choose to remain anonymous strictly because of my job position and I choose not to put that information on the internet but I would love to hear a response back.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous Power Dept Supervisor. Please do a better job 'supervising' power upgrades so you guys don't take out power to a section of the line for several days! That'd be just swell.

If you shut down one power source, make sure you have an adequate backup. Remember - two is one & one is none!

Anonymous said...

Problem: throwing your team mates under the bus. As the saying goes, a house divided against itself will fall.

Not cool.

Anonymous said...

I'd feel bad for those people who work long hours without seeing their families...if they weren't the ones collecting $70-$100,000 a year in OVERTIME wages.

Unknown said...

I don't know where you see Bobby complaining about other unions or crafts except maybe the RTC. I think Bobby in this letter is pishing the fact that upper management has in the long run created this problem by not letting the proper crafts do there job to the fullest. Also the commuters he is talking to is basicly lead by a individual that does know how the railroad works for the most part but still focuses his attention more of C&E crews because that's what they can infulance the most with there complaints. 90% of the commuters I deal with are great. Its the other 10% that as of late have made it very difficult to do our jobs and now are trying to get CT to replace Metro North as the train service provider in CT. No other craft has to deal with these people as much as us. And when they take pictures of other crafts and post them to there Facebook page and say things like look at this person doing nothing. The C&E's on that page have always defended them the same as we defend ourselves. I really felt this letter was asking people to start looking a little higher up to try to find where the problems are coming from.

Anonymous said...

As a passenger I agree with most of what you say and the issues are not all the conductors fault BUT the conductors need to be patient with the passengers as well. Many of us in these hard economic times have seen the cost of train tickets increases far excede the rate of wage increases which means that we are paying a larger percentage of our salary to ride the trains. At the same time we hear about the overtime and union pay increases at the MTA, and yes the maintenance. Having to sacrafice and spend more just to be able to work and earn a living makes us grouchy when we have dirty cars, crouded conditions, trains that are consistanly delayed, service outages due to maintenance and little to no communication. Add to that everyone has had a train ride where the conductor closes the door in your face and then tells you you missed the train while it just sits on the platform for a couple of minutes. Or a crowded train where cars are kept closed and empty even though it is standing room only. In one case passengers revolted and moved into a "closed" car and the conductor tried to lock the passenges in. And yes there are conductions who are rude and contentous with passengers. It is not fair but it makes an inpression about the conductors as a group.
The conductors need to know how frustrated we are that our service is getting worse despite the thousands of dollars more we pay a year, money we could use. You need to be considerate of us, be patient try and be nice and pleasant. Be honest if there is an issue and you do not hear anything. Listen to passengers. During the outage we were thrown off the warm train onto a cold platform and someone I know was not allowed to go back and get a phone charger that was plugged in. She asked to go back but was told to get the "blank" off the train. She had to buy a new one and never got the old one back. Don't hide in the conductor areas with the windows covered. If there is a conflict or problem in a don't hide help the passengers. Most of the time passengers have to take issues into their own hands.

And don't talk about pay increases and how much you are making in overtime and benefits in fromt of people who are being forced to give up more of their disposable income to pay for your increase in wages and benefits.

No it is not all conductors and there are some really nice and thoughtful ones but it is a two way street and the more passengers are stretched in pay and commuter problems the more negative we will be.

Anonymous said...

The person who posted those salary numbers for OT, well I only know a hand full of those workers and yes they have no life.. I for one don't want any part of that slave money my family is more important.. That said lots of these conductor shifts for the first 10 years have horrible schedules,crazy hours, and horrible days off.. You don't make a decent check until unless you make some OT. They are just like any other blue collar jobs nothing special...

Anonymous said...

Power supv
Must be nice not having to hear hundreds of complaints a week.
Walk 1 mile in a cdrs shoes.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I misread Bob's post, but I think it's pretty clear he's holding upper management accountable for the railroad's problems, and not any of the other crafts. He expressed some *mild* frustration with the RTCs and the car inspectors, but I don't think he even came close to "throwing them under the bus" and blaming them for everything that's gone wrong at Metro-North recently.

Really don't understand the indignation from the power department supervisor. Bobby is a railroad veteran and he appears to have a decent head on his shoulders, so I'm sure he is well aware of how hard the power department staff works and how vital their work is to the operation of the railroad. Bobby is a conductor so of course his posts are going to be conductor-centric. If that power department supervisor wants to spotlight his guys' efforts and sacrifices, by all means he should start his own blog!

Anonymous said...

The power supervisor is a coward

Anonymous said...

So much I want to write but alas, this is a different world now. All MNRR employees need to just hush up. There is nothing positive that comes out of Internet battles. Oh, and get off of Facebook, as well. It only causes trouble, and "The Man" is watching. Believe it. Done.

Anonymous said...

SUPERVISOR..that explains your response. You don't have to say anything else. Just like any other transportation job, it is always the ones WHO DO THE JOB that you have to belittle. If you want to jump in and talk down to him, then have the balls to use your real name. All he did was explain as to WHY there are delays. He did not throw anyone or any craft under the bus, especially the power department in which you are a SUPERVISOR. Sounds more like a guilty conscious to me. Why don't you come and ride the train and be a face for them to complain to and let you be the go between between management and the public instead of the train crew having to be the go between. I've worked in transportation of a freight carrier for years since we are the ones that the public sees, we are the ones who get the one finger salutes when we have crossings blocked because of a mechanical issue, track issue that is out of my control, not someone sitting in an office 200 miles away...hopefully you can show your response to your supervisor and get a pat on the back for "putting a conductor in his place" and maybe another promotion..since that is the way it usually works.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, Bobby, we as passengers on the New Haven line lost patience long ago and don't want to hear any of it.
Conductors told us every day for years that the poor service was due to the outdated equipment on the New Haven line. Now we have "new" equipment only to leave us pining for the old cars which had far more room/space and at least ran when it snowed.
Things have gotten so much worse that the situation now is seriously impacting people's lives and livelihoods. Morning meetings? Forget it--maybe by 10. Trying to coach a kid's basketball team? Maybe if you can be there by 8.
Don't want to hear nasty comments from passengers? Then demand that your union get your bosses on supervisors on the trains so that we can bitch at them. Maybe demand that they pro-rate monthly tickets to give US a break if you want US to give YOU a break. Fares go up, service goes to hell
I've been riding the New Haven line for 20 years and many of my fellow passengers have been riding it for far longer. It's never been remotely close to being this bad--no trains, late trains, no announcements, increased fares, rude personnel, filthy cars, the list goes on endlessly.
Want us to give YOU a break, Bobby? You've got to be kidding.

Anonymous said...

I am a commuter. I like the letter.

No one is throwing anyone under the bus.

Let's fix the national embarrassment already. Someone throw money at something!

Josh said...

Nice to see u back bobby. I hope everything is going well, I do agree with all that u said there.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that management employees at MNR have not gotten even a cost of living increase in their pay for the past 7 years. Not to mention managers do not make OT regardless of how many hours they may have to work in a week.

Anonymous said...

First let me say that I thought you did a tremendous job getting back up after buildings collapsed at 116th St. Thank you.

I've been rider of MetroNorth for close to two decades, on both Harlem and Hudson lines. We've had two fare increases in a year and yet regularly see delay after delay, in the morning and the evening ven with track work finished. Never any communication from management with explanation. We don't blame the conductors or the engineers. But something has broken at MetroNorth and nobody seems to address it. We have no reason why trains are delayed. Why are empty trains from yard coming in few minutes into GC for evening commute? This never used to happen, but now it's regular thing. Is is that there are two few crews? Is it that some fool decided they could shave costs by slowing down trains or lessening crews? Who decided that MNR should become the LIRR?? Communication and explanation from management would be helpful.