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Schumer Calls On Transit Agencies To Improve Emergency Communications

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer stood on a train platform in Orange County Thursday. He was in Tuxedo calling on New Jersey Transit and Metro-North to improve emergency communications with passengers following last week’s train crash in Hoboken, New Jersey. A Metro-North spokesman is responding.

The New Jersey Transit commuter train that crashed into the Hoboken station, killing a woman on the platform and injuring more than 100 others, originated in Spring Valley, in Rockland County, on a line that carries many commuters from Rockland and Orange Counties. Here’s Schumer, the senior senator from New York.

“The New Jersey transit and the Metro-North have responsibility to ensure that when disaster strikes, sheer panic and utter confusion does not follow,” Schumer says. “But with nary an orange jacket to be found at smaller stations in Orange and Rockland, a sluggish website that made it really hard to access information, and alternate travel information that was not even posted till what felt like days after the terrible accident, people up here in Tuxedo Park and all along the line in New York and Jersey were totally left in the dark. They didn’t know what to do.”

Hoboken serves as a major transfer hub for commuters west of the Hudson. New Jersey Transit operates the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley line trains. Tuxedo is a stop on the Port Jervis line. Schumer outlined four ways NJ Transit and Metro-North can work to improve communications. First, he said these agencies should expand efforts to sign up commuters for e-mail and text message alerts. Second, he said these two entities must get serious about expanding the use of social media tools. Aaron Donovan is Metro-North Railroad spokesman.

“Ensuring effective customer communication is a very high priority for Metro-North Railroad, and we appreciate Senator Schumer’s constructive suggestions. We do take them seriously,” Donovan says. “We will work with NJ Transit to evaluate the best approach to improving we share with our customers west of the Hudson River, especially during times of disruption, like the one we had.”

Donovan says riders who were signed up via MyMTAAlerts.com would have received information that day. He says the railroad will see what it can do to broaden awareness of this service as well as expand its Twitter, Facebook and other social media offerings. A New Jersey Transit spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment, but NJ Transit’s website does offer an email alert system. Here’s Rockland County Executive Ed Day, whose office was tweeting updates the day of the crash.

“This has been a failure in communications, and that is critical,” Day says. “Disaster is one thing but, when you do not communicate, do not get the word out to people, you create unnecessary crisis.”

Schumer says there are two other ways to improve communication — including having the two agencies ensure that public address systems and loudspeakers at stations are audible and not relaying garbled messages. Plus, he urges the two agencies to expand the immediate presence of well-informed staff to provide real-time information to customers at platforms. Schumer says these upgrades should not require any additional funding.

“They have enough resources to do this,” says Schumer. “This is a question of using their resources well.”

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says the day of the Hoboken crash reflected a disconnect among transit agencies.

“The CEO of Coach USA, which is probably one of the largest if not the largest bus transportation companies in the Northeast spoke directly on this, senator,” Neuhaus says. “And he said that they were, after the incident, standing by with their busses to provide service to those men and women who were trapped because their routes were now stopped, and they were standing by and were never given the call. So coordination and practice and drills are commonplace throughout our industry. It should be as well here.”

Area resident Kelly Davidson appreciated Schumer’s Tuxedo visit.

“And I’m glad he’s talking about the importance of providing information to commuters who were stuck for hours wondering what is going on, and how can we use alternative bus transportation. Apparently that was not addressed,” Davidson says. “So I’m glad he visited us and talked about that.”

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec and Tuxedo town officials were among those joining Schumer in his call for better emergency communications.  

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