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Metro-North Preps for Winter Woes

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Don't be fooled by all those autumn leaves and recent summer-like temperatures: Cold weather is just weeks away, and Metro-North is already making plans along the New Haven Line in Connecticut to cope with the onslaught of yet another icy New England winter.

"Metro-North has developed an extensive checklist to ensure that our fleet and personnel are ready for winter, from making sure salt is stored on all train platforms to changing gaskets on train parts and hundreds of other tasks in between," said Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

But Anders cautioned that winter preparations can go only so far, and when it comes to weather in New England, conditions can "change pretty fast." It was just in July that commuters and legislators were criticizing Metro-North after a train stalled in Westport, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded in more than 100-degree heat with no air-conditioning.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican whose district includes parts of Norwalk and Wilton and who is a member of the legislature's Transportation Committee, said communication along Metro-North's rail line must be upgraded to deal with those kinds of emergencies."What was shocking was the police couldn't even find the train for so long that people were walking on the tracks by the time help arrived," said Lavielle.

Such improvements must be made "particularly in light of the fare hikes" that will begin to take effect Jan. 1, she said. Though Metro-North and the Department of Transportation had sought a 16.4 percent hike, outcry at public hearings this summer resulted in a lower 12 percent increase over three years.

But, Anders said, "customers should realize that when nature's fury slams us, whether by hurricane, flood, tornado, earthquake or blizzard, there will be impacts to train service."

The following preparations will soon be under way, she said, as part of the winterization process:

• Train air brake lines will be purged of any moisture.

• Door motors will be sprayed with ethylene or propylene glycol (anti-freeze agent).

• Gaskets for doors will be double-checked and repaired/improved to keep blowing snow out of electric door motors.

• Horns and air intakes for electric traction motors will be covered with custom-fit, elastic bordered Irish linen to keep out snow. (A snow-impacted horn can cause an entire train to be taken out of service.)

• Baseboard heaters aboard trains will be photographed with an infrared camera that immediately points up impending failures.

• Exposed gears on locomotives will be sprayed with ethylene or propylene glycol.

• Locomotive fuel will be treated to prevent any moisture from freezing within the fuel lines.

• The system's more than 900 switches will be treated with ethylene/propylene glycol and the gearing will receive extra lubrication ? which keeps it free of freezing moisture ? and internal heating rods are turned on.

• Jet engine snow blowers, mounted on flat cars, are ready ? along with a variety of snow-removal equipment. They will begin operating when accumulations begin.

• Pilot trains are in operation as needed, especially overnight. These are diesel locomotives that blast through right of ways with their pilot (which looks like a snow plow) blasting snow from tracks.

• All electric trains are fitted with special third-rail shoes that have holes in them so snow does not stick to them and build up, which interferes with the contact.

• Trains with pantographs keep moving all night, clearing catenary on the New Haven Line.

• Patrol trains operate, dropping off and picking up workers to clean, salt and sand station platforms.

Contact Richard Weizel at .

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