State Transportation Chief To Field Commuters’ Metro-North Questions

February 6, 2014

Article as it Appeared in The Hartford Courant February 05, 2014|By DON STACOM

Disgruntled Metro-North commuters will get their chance to ask about what’s gone wrong with the railroad at a forum in Fairfield on Feb. 18 sponsored by the Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby.

State Transportation Commissioner James Redeker is scheduled to field questions at a “Speakout” forum hosted by the organization. The department confirmed on Wednesday that he plans to attend.

“Metro-North is crucial to our economy and if it isn’t operating safely and on time, everyone is affected — commuters, motorists and ordinary taxpayers,” organization co-chair Jill Kelly said Wednesday in announcing the forum.

“It’s been a horrible year for Metro-North and for its 120,000 daily riders in Connecticut,” the organization said in a written statement. “There have been derailments, collisions, power failures, passengers stranded in cold cars and five deaths. The railroad’s president has quit, the trains are running late and commuters are angry and confused.”

The Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby, made up of a series of transit advocacy groups, has invited Redeker to the forum at 7:30 p.m. at the Pequot Library in Fairfield’s Southport section. The railroad’s New Haven line runs from Grand Central Terminal along the state’s coast to New Haven, with spurs to New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury.

Metro-North has had a two-year run of escalating troubles, with the past 10 months by far the worst in its 30-year history. Federal regulators, congressmen, state legislators and commuter advocates have all grown increasingly vocal in criticizing the railroad, and a contingent of Connecticut lawmakers is pressing to look for another contractor to run the state’s commuter rail system.
Earlier this week, Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, talked with commuters during the morning rush hour at the Stratford station, urging them to press Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration to devote more money to maintaining the heavily used New Haven line.

“Metro-North’s safety and service failures have gone on for too long,” Kelly said. “Metro-North disruptions and failures threaten the safety of passengers as well as their quality of life.”

The railroad’s defenders say it compiled a long history of safe, reliable and cost-effective operation before the recent incidents. In December, Redeker told state lawmakers he was confident Metro-North leadership was serious about improving performance, saying, “I’m more confident than ever in the railroad.”

Since then, thousands of riders were stranded by a systemwide shutdown blamed on human error, and in a separate incident the railroad took more than an hour to help riders who were stuck on a train without power or heat. The rescue train it sent had equipment failures as well, including broken heaters in some cars.