Con Edison: Line Work Likely Caused Metro-North Failure

Consolidated Edison Inc.’s work to disconnect an electrical cable to accommodate a railroad upgrade project probably caused a power failure that disrupted train travel on Metro-North’s busiest commuter line.

The company is conducting a thorough review to determine whether freezing done to take one line out of service led to the failure of a second line, the New York-based utility owner said in a statement today. The Sept. 25 power failure has resulted in delays and clogged trains on Metro-North’s New Haven line, which serves about 130,000 commuters daily in Connecticut and suburban Westchester County in New York.

Metro-North ordered Con Edison to remove a feeder cable earlier this month so that it could upgrade one of the railroad’s electrical substations, Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the state-owned Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said in a phone interview. The train operator asked Con Edison to power the system on the second feeder after testing found “that there were no defects and there was nothing amiss and it should have been able to function normally,” Donovan said.

Con Edison expects to completely restore power to the train line by Oct. 7. Over the weekend, it built temporary feeders that allowed more electric trains to operate this morning. With diesel and electric trains, the line has been operating at more than 50 percent of capacity today, up from a third last week, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said during a news conference.

Train Refunds

Metro-North said yesterday it would offer 8,600 free park-and-ride spaces in Westchester County and the Bronx to help commuters traveling to Manhattan. The board will meet tomorrow to consider approving credits for customers whose service has been disrupted by the power loss.

Amtrak will resume most service on its Acela Express train line between New York and Boston tomorrow.

Con Edison said in the process of removing the high-voltage transmission line from service, it had to freeze the oil that insulates a pipe surrounding the line. The company found that the power fault was located just outside of the “freeze pit” and the ground nearby was frozen, which “likely contributed to the feeder failure.”

Freezing lines is a routine operation, taking place several times a year, and Con Edison said it can’t recall a prior incident where the surrounding ground was frozen.

“Because this has not occurred before, it’s hard to blame them for that,” said Ruth Johnson, vice president of engineering at High Energy Inc. and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Given the amount of power demand for the train system “it’s not like they could bring in a backup generator just in case.”

Con Edison fell 1 cent to $55.14 at the close in New York. The shares have declined 2 percent since the fault occurred.

“They’re going to have to develop some protocol so that we don’t have one-line feeds ever again on the system,” Malloy said.

(A Metro-North spokesman corrects comments from the railroad to say upgrade work didn’t include the power line. The story was originally published yesterday.)
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