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Metro North's punchy personality


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Metro North's punchy personality

By Marlene Naanes


July 6, 2008



Dennis W. Ho

Conductor John Mancinelli, age 45 of Madison CT, a 26 year veteran of the Metro North Railroad, with his ticket punch. Photo taken at Grand Central Station in Manhattan on June 9, 2008.


Before a Metro-North conductor retired to Italy, he made sure his beloved heart-shaped ticket puncher - his sidekick for many years -- lived on in a young conductor's hands.


Like passing a torch, the man's punch was passed down to Sharon Carlquist, who used it until it broke. Now a year away from retirement, Carlquist, a conductor for more than 30 years, hopes to get her hands on a heart-shaped punch to pass onto a new, young assistant conductor.


"We love our punches," said Carlquist, whose current punch looks like a lopsided star. "We get very attached to them, and you don't want them to break."


Carlquist and many other conductors have punched through sandpaper -- done anything, really -- just to keep their punches working well.


More than 1,000 punch shapes are used on the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road. Almost as unique as fingerprints, the shapes identify which conductor punched a ticket to keep customers from reusing tickets from other trains.


"It's a part of you," said conductor Annie Murphy Kelly.


Kelly, a redhead who jokes she's just a little Irish, has been on a career-long quest for a shamrock punch.


She was stuck with a coffin-shaped punch that finally broke after 20 years, then had a hat and now has the next-closest shape to a shamrock, a club.


"I've been begging for years," she said of the shamrock punch, one of the most requested shapes. "When I retire I'm taking it with me."


The shapes of the punches, while unique, are not always easy to distinguish, sometimes leaving even their owners stumped.


"I've been told it looks like a rabbit," said John Mancinelli, a conductor for 26 years. "I don't know -- it depends on which way you look at it."


Mancinelli has had his current punch for about eight years, but it hardly compares to his mushroom punch, a favorite because Mancinelli also works as a chef at his catering business. After 18 years of punching, the mushroom stopped pushing through tickets, and Mancinelli had to turn it in for the rabbit.


"It was like losing your good friend," he said.


Even as a pilot project launches that arms conductors with electronic handheld devices that print out receipts that do not need punching, the old-school tool is not going anywhere soon, Metro-North officials promise.


If anything, the punches will be used less and last longer, said Bill O'Reilly, manager of conductor accounts.


"[The electronic handhelds] won't make them extinct," O'Reilly said.


While that's good news to some conductors, others don't get attached to their metal companions.


James Joyce, a veteran of 38 years, has gone through six punches and can hardly remember what they looked like.


"When they don't punch through nice and smooth, I turn it in to get something else," said Joyce, whose current punch resembles a fire hydrant. "Efficiency, that's all I care about."




Punchy trivia


* Only two companies in the country make hole punches.


* Metro-North requests about 150 punches at a time.


* Its vendor, M.C. Mieth Manufacturing Inc, has a catalogue of more than 1,600 designs. = * Sometimes the punches accidentally resemble an offensive anatomical shape, and are removed before being put in use.


* Mieth sells about 30,000 to 50,000 a year.


* Other big purchasers include restaurants that use them to punch frequent-buyer promotional cards.

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I now also see why I [along with all other Bronx riders who can't stand the fact that Metro-North doesn't accept Metrocards] never seem to find a way to avoid the ticket collector. If a passenger gets up, I'd always go to sit there, since the seat check would still be there. And yet, the ticket collector would still ask to see mine. It was as if, somehow they knew, and I could never quite understand why. Now I get it!

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