Seeking to avoid a commuter rail catastrophe like the electrical outage that crippled the Metro-North New Haven line in September, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, and federal elected officials announced plans Sunday to upgrade a Connecticut substation.
Standing on a train platform at Union Station in New Haven, officials said they’re hoping to avoid another outage similar to what happened in September in Mount Vernon, New York, when a ConnEdison cable failed and led to a power outage on the line that took weeks to repair.
Starting Monday, Feb. 3, Connecticut Light & Power and Metro-North will attempt a similar upgrade at a substation in Cos Cob to replace a transformer.
“It will be upgraded in such a way to make sure the things that happened in Mount Vernon, don’t happen in Connecticut,” Malloy said.
Last September, an electrical backup cable failed during maintenance and the second line had been out for more than 30 days before work began, according to Malloy.
Malloy said he’s asked Redeker to look at the plans independent of CL&P and Metro-North and to develop a backup plan to get commuters to Grand Central Station even if there is a catastrophic failure during the Connecticut project. However, he remained optimistic that things would go well.
He said a much higher degree of cooperation exists between CL&P and Metro-North than between ConnEdison and Metro-North.
“What we have to assume, I think at every one of these major projects, is that there is going to be a problem and then plan from there,” Malloy said. “And that’s a very different mindset than existed previously.”
The project will be paid for with $10 million in bonds already approved by the state Bond Commission. The project is expected to take 16 days and, if all goes as planned, commuters should experience no slow down as a result. A second transformer is expected to be replaced in mid-March.
Redeker said that unlike the project in Mount Vernon, Connecticut has built redundancy into the construction plan. He said they connected the eastbound power supply to the westbound power supply so that they will have a backup on the eastbound side as they decommission the two transformers. The new connection has been in operation for the last few weeks.
“Plus, instead of depowering two at once. We’re going to depower one and leave the other one in hot-readiness, so we’ve got two backup redundancy plans for the power,” Redeker said. “And what’s different is that we’ve got a ready-to-deploy railroad response if in fact power was lost by all of those means. And we’ve got a backup bus shuttle system if we need that.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said another key point is that they’re not using equipment that is six years past its normal design life, like they did in Mount Vernon.
“The elephant on the tracks here is Metro-North,” Blumenthal said. “Where is the MTA in its investment?”
A Metro-North official was in attendance, but did not speak at the event Sunday.
Malloy said he traveled to New York after the September incident and quickly understood “the lack of planning that went into that.”
A report on the power outage in Mount Vernon that crippled the busiest rail system in the nation is expected to be released at the end of March. The power outage was one of several incidents Metro-North had to deal with in 2013.
“Given the problems we have experienced on the New Haven line, there is understandably a negative public perception of the reliability of that railroad and its infrastructure and quite frankly we can’t afford for that situation to exist,” Malloy said.
There’s been a focus on rail safety since the fatal December train derailment in the Bronx where four people were killed, and the May 28, 2013, 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, 2013, when trains carrying about 500 passengers collided.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty said she’s called four times on the Republican-controlled House to raise a rail safety bill that has languished since the federal government shutdown last October.
“We are overdue in Congress for a passenger rail safety bill,” Esty said. “It should have come up in October and it was a casualty of the shutdown.”