When he saw the smoke billowing into the air, Bill Henderson was curious. "When you don't do as much maintenance," said the riders advocate from The Citizens Advisory Committee, "things start to happen, and that's what we're concerned about."
The fire in question involved wooden pilings or "bumpers" which protect the 138th Street Rail bridge from passing boats. Some type of transformer fire ignited those bumpers just before noon Monday.
All Metro North service was stopped into an out of Grand Central. The MTA Chairman said this was for safety reasons. The fire didn't impact the signals, or power, but inspectors had to make sure the bridge was ok.
Mike D'Andrea, on his way to Manhattan on The New Haven line, quickly had to re-adjust.
He got off at Stamford, took an Amtrak to Penn Station, and didn't miss work.
"It's amazing how something goes bad, people look after one another. I was really lucky," said D'Andrea.
But longtime critics of the Transit Authority wondered if this blaze, just four weeks after a fire that shut down the LIRR, is a sign of neglected infrastructure.
"The MTA has a difficult job," acknowledged John Liu, the New York City Comptroller. "The system is over a hundred years old, more investment needs to take place with regard to keeping the infrastructure up to date."
But the MTA has said given draconian budget cuts from Albany, its a Herculean task just to keep the nation's largest mass transit system running.
A spokesman also points out the wooden bumpers are totally unrelated to last month's problems on the LIRR.
Still, riders like Sarah Gennette of the Upper East Side are wary.
"It's so old it's a little bit scary. You wonder if we're gonna get stuck down there."
But riders advocates say for the most part the MTA is remarkably reliable given that its trains and buses run 24 hours a day.