Democratic and Republican lawmakers who sit on the legislature’s Transportation Committee expressed their frustration Monday with what seems to be countless problems with Metro-North Railroad.
From stranded rail commuters to accidents and even fatalities, Connecticut lawmakers have had enough and are ready to start discussing their options.
At a Legislative Office Building press conference, Rep. Antonio Guerrera, who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, suggested the state look at finding another company to manage Connecticut’s rails. But he acknowledged the chances of that happening are slim since Metro-North has a 60-year contract with the state.
“Basically our hands are tied and we’ve had it,” Guerrera said.
He said as the co-chairman of the legislative committee in charge of overseeing transportation in the state, “we don’t feel they’ve been proactive in trying to fix this.”
“We can’t keep putting up with this folks,” Guerrera said.
He said he wants to see a business plan from incoming Metro-North President Joe Giulietti to make sure these mistakes and commuter problems don’t continue happening. Giulietti isn’t expected to start the job until next week.
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said federal officials were sent copies of the letter as well because Metro-North has asked and received several exemptions on safety upgrades. She said it’s important that federal officials are made aware of what’s happening.
A list of incidents dating back to the 2011 February snow storm that took 40 percent of the rail cars off line to the most recent incident, in which a Metro-North employee was charged with public indecency and breach of peace, were listed on the last page of the letter to federal rail administrators, Connecticut’s Congressional delegation, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and the head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Malloy, along with MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast, are scheduled to meet with Giuliotti on Feb. 13.
Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said it’s unlikely Connecticut would be able to find another operator.
“The customers are shared, the infrastructure is shared so any attempt to look at that would be very, very complex,” Redeker said. “And may or may not get the benefits people expect.”
He said he doesn’t necessarily believe a contractor change is the right answer for Connecticut’s rail line woes.
“On the other hand, the real issue is how do you manage day-to-day and how do you get improvements out of an existing operator, who among most has been recognized as one of the premier operators in the country,” Redeker said.
In their letter, lawmakers wrote that “mounting problems that have plagued Metro-North Railroad over the course of the last two years have reached a crisis point.”
“We ask our Congressional delegation and the U.S. Department of Transportation to prioritize funding for repairs and maintenance on Metro-North, with particular attention to the New Haven Line,” lawmakers wrote. “As it stands, the infrastructure is not strong enough to withstand the continuous problems affecting it.”
Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-Fairfield, said it’s difficult to ask for money from the feds or taxpayers when Metro-North hasn’t created a long-term infrastructure plan commuters and businesses can support. She said that has to happen before real change can happen.
“MTA Metro-North Railroad works closely with the federal government and our Connecticut partners to achieve our shared goal of a safe and reliable railroad,” Marjorie Anders, a Metro-North spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.
She said in addition to cooperating with the Federal Railroad Administration, which is conducting a 60-day “Deep Dive” review of the railroad’s operations that is expected to be finished by the end of March, it is also making its own improvements.
“Since December, improvements have been identified and are in the process of being made to the railroad’s infrastructure, its railcars and to its communication procedures,” Anders said. “The railroad is in the process of reviewing its schedules based upon current operating conditions.”