New Metro-North head Giulietti grilled by lawmakers

February 28, 2014

By Martin B. Cassidy | Article as it appeared in the Stamford Advocate

HARTFORD — The honeymoon will be short, members of the state legislature’s Transportation Committee told new Metro-North president Joseph Giulietti Thursday, but the two and a half hours of questions he took from them sounded more like it was already over.

“Derailments, stranded passengers, timetables that haven’t been met, we don’t want fatalities in our state or anywhere else for that matter,” state Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said. “I am now in a position where I cannot defend you or your organization in terms of the service being provided and what we’ve had to do as a state to overcome that.”

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said Giulietti and other higher-ups should view the immediate and positive reaction from commuters to a mea culpa letter left by a Metro-North conductor earlier this week as instructive.

“The confidence level of the ridership is at an absolute all-time low, I have to believe, so there is going to be a lot of eyes on you in particular, Joe,” Frantz said, –¦when the best thing that has happened to Metro-North in two years’ time is an apology letter a conductor writes and puts on the seat and people said `Hooray!’ Finally somebody showed they care. There is a perception that Metro-North doesn’t care.”

Earlier this week, conductor Michael Shaw wrote and distributed 500 copies of a letter addressed to a group of passengers he mistakenly directed to wait on a platform for an express train he believed was coming. Riders immediately expressed their appreciation of the letter on social media and tweeted pictures of it.

Before reading excerpts from emails from stranded passengers and a recent Newsweek article about Metro-North, state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, reminded Giulietti of the economic drag caused by the 13-day disruption of late September and early October.

“It brought I-95 to a complete halt, trucks, goods getting to stores, some I work with couldn’t even get home,” she said. “It is critical for (the New Haven Line) for it to continue to function.”
Beyond two fatal accidents on the system in the past year, Metro-North’s service problems are now tarnishing Connecticut’s reputation and threatening the state’s long-term economic prospects, she said.

“Our real estate agents are beginning to say to me that all of a sudden Metro-North is coming up in discussions with people about moving,” Boucher said. “Tell me how you would rectify some of the issues to assure people we’re moving in the right direction?”

Guilietti gamely took the Transportation Committee’s grilling, along with MTA CEO Thomas Prendergast who accompanied him, explaining several times that he is committed to fixing the railroad, but must first get a proper understanding of its problems.

“While I don’t have all the answers yet I can tell you a few things for sure,” Giulietti said. “We must and will get back to the basics of good railroading providing safe and reliable service everyday.”

The pair admitted that the successive problems of 2013 were the result of neglected fundamentals to assure safety and reliability.

The Transportation Committee members’ questions kept coming.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said the time it took to rescue passengers stranded on broken trains is too long, and exacerbates already declining regard for Metro-North.
Frantz chimed in on that subject too.

“It seems to me whether it is an emergency response, communication, or the ability to establish or maintain schedules that so much of this has to do with protocols of operations,” Frantz said.

Guilietti emphasized that a 100-day plan due to Connecticut leaders next week will outline his short-term efforts to help assure safety and address New Haven Line riders’ grievances. A general summary of the plan will be released next week touching on organizational culture, reliability and communications with customers.

He said he is not waiting for the results of federal investigations of the railroad to begin tackling knottier issues about the underlying causes of the poor performance.

“I want to know if there are common elements to all the failures we saw last year,” Giulietti said. “I also want to know if we have the most talented employees in the most important positions.”