Gov. Dannel P. Malloy let Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast know that they had lost the trust of the rail commuting public in Connecticut.
After emerging Monday from a closed-door meeting, Malloy said the railroad was going to put in place a 100-day plan to begin to earn back the trust of the commuting public by providing reliable, on-time, and safe travel from Connecticut to New York. The plan is expected to be created over the next two weeks. The two sides also agreed to an independent review of any major projects like the recent replacement of an electrical cable in Cos Cob.
“We have stressed with them that the lack of communication, in so many ways, has led to this level of mistrust and distrust between their ridership in Connecticut,” Malloy said at a press conference outside his Capitol office.
He said part of the problem with the MTA is that for too long everybody has been willing to take credit for the wins without “sufficient owning up to the losses.”
Both Giuletti, who started the job last week, and Prendergast acknowledged that there’s work that needs to be done in repairing its relationship with commuters.
But pinpointing exactly how it got to this point was difficult.
There was the derailment in Bridgeport last year, followed by the death of the worker on the track in West Haven, followed by the power outage in September which halted traffic on the New Haven line, and then the fatal derailment in the Bronx in December. That all happened in 2013.
“I don’t know how they allowed it to get to this point,” Malloy said.
Prendergast said the incidents that occurred in 2013 happened over a period of time. He said each is being investigated by the NTSB.
When those investigations are completed, Prendergast said he believes they’re going to find that there was an exodus of key people who retired after being with the railroad for 30 years.
“There were also some issues with respect to track,” Prendergast said.
He said that’s why they brought in a company to look at their maintenance practices. He said there are also inspector general reports regarding employees who were off-the-job doing other things while they were supposed to be working.
“When you put that all together there’s a breakdown in management especially in that one area,” Prendergast said. “That kind of degradation occurs over time, but they manifest themselves generally down the road.”
He went on to say, “We have had a tremendous number of those instances. It’s not by coincidence. There’s something going on in the organization. There’s some management and cultural issues. We’ll find those and root them out.”
He said rooting out those problems starts by bringing in new management, like Giuletti. Prendergast has only been in the position since last June. Both promised to make the changes the governor was asking them to make.
He said there’s nothing they want more than to restore that performance to where it was when it was considered the best in the industry.
As part of that commitment, Prendergast said they’re going to be listening to commuters’ concerns.
“There’s a lot to be said for ‘listen to the customers concerns and respond to them’,” Prendergast said. “And we will commit to that. We have committed to that.”
But while acknowledging that there’s room for improvement, Metro-North and the MTA have little to worry about when it comes to its contract to manage Connecticut’s rails.
The 60-year contract is renewed every five years. If the two sides can’t agree to the terms, then it goes to arbitration. That leaves Connecticut with very little leverage to get Metro-North to voluntarily comply.
“We have gone to arbitration in the past,” Malloy said. “As a result, we pay some additional dollars, but I think we paid that without commensurate reliability. I have to say I think they were doing a pretty good job for a period of time, but have fallen off a cliff.”
The question is how quickly can the new leadership team restore that level of performance.
Malloy said the state will be asking for bids in the near future for the New Haven-to-Springfield rail line.
“I think that demonstrates our willingness to look at other options,” Malloy said.