- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A nearly two-hour power outage that stranded thousands of Metro-North Commuter Railroad passengers was caused by human error during an electrical repair project, transit officials said Friday.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Thomas Prendergast apologized for Thursday’s outage, the latest in a series of blows to Metro-North’s reputation, and promised an investigation into how it happened.

“Metro-North customers deserve better, and I extend my sincere apology to all of them,” Prendergast said in a statement. “I have directed Metro-North to bring in an independent consultant to examine how and why these mistakes were made, and to recommend any necessary changes to operating procedures to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

Prendergast said computers that run Metro-North’s signal system lost power at 7:45 p.m. Thursday when one of two main power supply units was taken out of service for replacement. Technicians performing the work did not realize that a wire was disconnected on the other main power supply unit.

Service on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines was halted for nearly two hours. Prendergast called the outage “unacceptable, pure and simple.”

The outage was the latest in a string of problems for Metro-North, including the Dec. 1 derailment that killed four in the Bronx. In that crash, the train jumped the tracks after going into a curve at 82 mph, or nearly three times the 30 mph speed limit. A union representative for the motorman said he experienced a momentary loss of awareness before the crash.

More recently, about 200 passengers were stuck on a train in Connecticut on Wednesday after it was disabled by downed wires.

Some Metro-North riders who were affected by Thursday’s outage were still angry a day later.

Will McDonald said he sat on the motionless 7:53 train to Poughkeepsie as the conductor first announced a signal problem, then a system-wide malfunction. He said the conductor told passengers to use their smartphones to access the Internet and find out what was going on.

“I used to be a great fan of Metro North,” said McDonald, who eventually got a ride home to Cortlandt from a friend.

“You have to imagine that a transportation system in an area as important as this area had backup plans, some other resources that could be leveraged, that this wouldn’t happen,” said McDonald, who works in information technology. “One of the things you do in IT is that you build redundancies so that there isn’t a single point of failure that will cause the whole system to collapse.”

Ellen Albert said that when she got to Grand Central at the tail end of Thursday’s rush hour the place was jammed and half of the train statuses on the schedule board read “waiting for announcement.”

“You know when you walk in and you see crowds like that, something’s bad,” Albert said.

Albert’s train was stuck in a tunnel for 90 minutes before it finally returned to Grand Central. Albert, who works in commercial real estate, took a car service home to Pelham.

She was upset that conductors didn’t walk through with information, and fired off a message to Metro-North customer service with her phone.

A railroad spokeswoman said conductors did their best to share whatever facts were known.

William Castro, an accessories designer who also is from Pelham and was stranded in a tunnel Thursday night, said, “The good thing was I could see another train stopped on another track. Another sign of life.”

He added, “Pay more, get less.”

Metro-North serves about 280,000 riders a day in New York and Connecticut. Prendergast said Thursday’s outage affected more than 50 trains.

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