Sen. Boucher: Rail Passengers’ Bill of Rights Will Protect Commuters

August 22, 2011

State Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) today sent state officials a draft proposal for a “Rail Passengers’ Bill of Rights” which aims to prioritize the basic needs of Metro-North commuters and boost communication between management and train riders.

Boucher said she hopes the proposal will add to the discussion with Metro North on improvement plans and to this week’s public hearings on rail fare increases. She noted that the proposal could be used as a template for future legislation if necessary, as well as in future negotiations with Metro North as the state’s vendor.

Boucher’s Rail Passengers’ Bill of Rights comes in response to the July 22 breakdown of rail cars in 100 plus degree heat for 53 minutes and the stranding of distressed, vulnerable passengers.

Boucher, who serves as Ranking Member of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, also took into account several of the suggestions made by the public at Thursday’s Metro-North public hearing in Westport.

“I want what happened on July 22 to be a wake-up call for Metro North,” Boucher said. “We are approaching the 10th anniversary of September 11th. Much has been accomplished over the past decade in terms of safety and security improvements on the trains, but July 22 highlighted serious safety and communication deficiencies that must still be addressed.”

Boucher said her proposal is a “working document” which will be discussed at Wednesday’s Commuter Rail Council meeting, and that she hopes the public will review, comment and add to it.

“When rail passengers board a train, they should expect that they will be treated with dignity and they should expect excellent communication from Metro-North,” Boucher said. “On July 22, those expectations were not met – not by a long shot. They say you cannot legislate common sense, but sometimes achieving that common sense requires us to take action in Hartford. My goal is to assure that commuters are safe. On July 22, their safety was put in jeopardy. I believe my Rail Passengers’ Bill of Rights will go a long way toward ensuring that what happened on July 22 will never happen again.”

Boucher’s proposal states that rail passengers have a right to expect:

  • In the event of an emergency, contingency plans must be in place to provide essential services including adequate water, restroom facilities, railcar ventilation, access to necessary medical treatment and safe disembarkation.
  • Safety and security protocols and procedures and emergency contingency plans will be reviewed by Connecticut’s Homeland Security department, local law enforcement, DOT and Rail management.
  • If a train is delayed or interrupted for more than 15 minutes, Metro-North shall make every effort to keep the passengers informed of the nature and anticipated duration of the delay. Accurate ongoing announcements will also be made at rail stations.
  • Communication protocols between conductors and passengers will be developed to address outages and service disruption. Accurate, timely communication regarding on-time performance, delays and service interruptions will be posted via public web Site, RSS feed, email and other methods.
  • Conductors must have access to working communications devices on all railcars and will receive timely reports from their operations office on a regular basis.
  • Conductors must provide passengers with accurate communication and receive regular safety and disaster contingency training
  • Conductors must wear uniforms with nametags at all times while working on railcars.
  • There will be seamless communication with first responders at each train station
  • Passengers will be treated courteously by all railroad employees and police.
  • Railcars should have adequate lighting, heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, and a functioning PA system.
  • All trains must be equipped with first aid kits
  • Passengers will not be stranded if service is canceled or disrupted. If such an event occurs, alternate transportation will be provided.
  • Passengers will be granted a refund/discount or free ticket for service disruptions
  • Peak and off-peak times and penalty fare policies will be clearly posted on each train car and at each ticket sales location.
  • Railroad management will provide opportunities for passenger feedback and grievances, possibly via a complaint hotline. Passengers will be consulted through public meetings and/or referendums on changes that will substantively impact the cost, frequency, reliability or safety of trains and/or stations
  • Clean, safe, rail cars with working restroom facilities
  • CTDOT will have a senior staff at regular Metro North Board meetings representing the interests of the state
  • Commuters’ Rights will be posted on all trains and all stations throughout the system.

Boucher is notifying state transportation and homeland security officials of her proposal, as well as Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron.

“We should all view July 22 as a teachable moment,” Boucher said. “Tragedy was averted on that day, but if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat the past. Rail riders deserve better than what they are getting.”