NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A train commuter leader launched an online effort Monday that included social media to air complaints directly to Metro-North Railroad and elected officials, saying commuters are fed up after recent derailments, service outages and stranded passengers.
Jim Cameron said the Commuter Action Group is encouraging commuters to immediately report problems such as late trains and lack of heat directly to the railroad and copy the email or tweet to their elected official.
The group is providing links to the railroad's complaint page and to lawmakers and encouraging commuters to take photos with their smartphones. Among the complaints retweeted by the group Monday, commuters cited delays, a lack of communication and a train that was two cars short, so many passengers were standing.
"My hope is that we're going to finally be able to capture not only the number but the depth of commuters who are angry about how bad service has got," Cameron said. "I don't think elected officials can ignore that. If they do, come November we will remember who helped us and who didn't."
Metro-North defended its response to complaints.
"Metro-North has a well-trained workforce of front-line employees who are in a position to, and do, resolve thousands of issues in real time each day: namely, train crew members and ticket sellers," the railroad said in a statement. "For those who need additional assistance, we have a responsive customer service department that responds to every email it receives through MTA.info and phone call it receives through 511, as well as incoming tweets from Metro-North customers."
The campaign comes after a train derailed in New York in December that killed four passengers and a derailment in May in Bridgeport that injured 73. Also in May, a track foreman was struck and killed by a passenger train in West Haven.
Passengers were stranded twice last week by a power outage and downed wires.
Connecticut lawmakers last month expressed anger and concern about the accidents, with some suggesting the state should investigate whether another vendor might better operate the railroad.
Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said at the time that he appreciated the anxiety but said was confident the condition of the railroad "is in better shape than ever" and that Metro-North is focusing on safety and conducting a "deep review" of the recent incidents to improve practices. Other investigations of the railroad are also being conducted in the wake of the accidents.
Metro-North, one of the nation's busiest commuter railroads, operates the New Haven Line under a contract with the DOT.
Cameron was chairman of the Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, which was replaced last year by the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council to broaden its oversight to include the New Haven-Springfield passenger line expected to operate by 2016. Cameron said his new effort was not in competition with that group.
Commuter complaints traditionally were presented to railroad and state officials at month meetings, Cameron said. He said that approach was not effective.
The group also posted what it called a commuter manifesto saying riders expect a clean, safe, on-time, seated ride on trains with heat, lights and air conditioning, fast, accurate and honest communications when there are problems and responsive customer service to complaints.