Connecticut officials were satisfied Tuesday with the steps that the Metro-North Railroad and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have taken to improve the safety of the rails after a year of fatal accidents and derailments.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut and Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Thomas Prendergast earlier this month and asked them for an “action plan that addresses communication, safety reporting, inspection and maintenance programs, remedial short term action plans, and longer term capital investment programs to upgrade the infrastructure.”
The report they provided Malloy details the action the organizations have taken after each incident from the May 17 derailment to the Sept. 25 electrical outage at the Mount Vernon substation that caused the New Haven Line to lose power. It also includes information about how it plans to communicate better with Connecticut Transportation Commissioner James Redeker in the future.
“As requested by Governor Malloy, Metro-North has agreed to increase communication to the Commissioner of the CT DOT, both on an emergency basis and on a routine basis,” the report reads. “Metro-North will develop a monthly report for the commissioner that summarizes right-of-way inspection and maintenance activities as well as provides a look ahead for future scheduled work.”
In addition, Metro-North promises a return — by April if not sooner — to the regular weekday train schedule that was in effect before the May 17 derailment and collision of two trains at the Bridgeport/Fairfield border on the New Haven Line. Since that derailment, “slow orders” have been imposed, reducing train speeds and adding minutes to virtually every train schedule.
“I am anxious to return to normal service for the thousands of commuters that use this service on a daily basis, and hope the MTA will beat their April deadline,” Malloy said in a press release.
But beyond the issue of timeliness, is the issue of safety.
There’s been a hefty focus on safety as well since the fatal train derailment in the Bronx where four people were killed, and the May 28 accident in West Haven where a train was rerouted and ended up killing an employee who was working on the track. About 76 people were injured in Bridgeport on May 17 when trains carrying about 500 passengers collided.
One of the biggest, most expensive improvements the railroad has been mandated by Congress to install is called “Positive Train Control.” The system prevents collisions by automatically halting trains when they come dangerously close to each other or when they are going too fast.
“Connecticut has fully funded the implementation of Positive Train Control, and Metro-North has been asked to expedite full implementation of PTC throughout the network,” Metro-North wrote in it’s report to Malloy. “This is an essential investment in safety that is a top priority.”
It’s unclear however when exactly the system will be installed on the line.
“Any essential safety investments that are identified will be made a priority,” the report concludes.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the MTA should be more specific about its deadline for installing safety features that would have prevented serious crashes in Bridgeport and the Bronx.
“These safety features include an alerter system in the back and front of every train, automatic speed control to enforce speed restrictions, and cameras in all operator cabs,” Blumenthal said. “I welcome the MTA report as a first step to be followed by more specifics in future regular reports that will overhaul and upgrade clearly lacking safety practices and culture.”
The General Assembly’s Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing on rail safety and infrastructure 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.