Metro-North Releases Plan For Improvements [Hartford Courant]

March 5, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

The Hartford Courant
12:11 PM EST, March 4, 2014

Metro-North’s new president on Monday night gave Connecticut leaders his short-term plan for improving safety and rebuilding reliable service on the troubled railroad, but acknowledged up front that it’s light on specific changes, cost estimates or deadlines.

Joseph Giulietti promised to flesh out the plan after seeing whatever recommendations come from a pair of studies by the Federal Railroad Administration and a panel of experts hired by Metro-North’s parent agency

“Just one year ago, Metro-North was almost universally considered the best railroad in the United States,” Giulietti said in a lengthy message to Transportation Commissioner James Redeker. “My goal is to restore that reputation by providing excellent service delivered on a solid foundation of safety.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday sent out a statement saying he understands the railroad is awaiting the FRA’s findings, but added “I am disappointed that the letter did not provide more specifics … while the letter is certainly a roadmap to better and safer service, riders need to know that there is a plan with benchmarks and deadlines in place.”

The governor assured that he’ll hold Metro-North executives to their commitment to have reform measures in effect by June 11, and expects many initiatives will be completed by then.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also wants more specifics.

“As it stands, this document is a plan in name only, more a set of aspirations than an actionable roadmap for concrete improvements,” said Blumenthal, who chairs a key congressional subcommittee on transportation.

Giulietti took over the nation’s busiest commuter railroad in early February following a string of derailments, wrecks, service meltdowns and employee fraud. The New Haven line timetable grew unreliable this winter, infuriating Fairfield County commuters as late trains and canceled trains became commonplace.

Giulietti’s plan includes reorganizing the railroad’s safety department by June 1 to better implement and enforce safety rules, more thoroughly investigate the root causes of crashes or near-crashes, and revamp the safety training system for workers. He said the railroad will overhaul the track maintenance division, and hire additional supervisors or staff if needed.

Metro-North will complete signal upgrades at several critical spots four months ahead of schedule, and intends to finish track work in the Bronx — which has been delaying trains — by the end of March. Giulietti promised a “back to basics” program to improve reliability, saying “Every aspect of our operation — from how we maintain infrastructure and railcars to how we operate each train — will be reviewed and will have targets for improvement.”

Rep. Tony Guerrera, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s transportation committee, said Monday night that he’ll need to see more specifics. Guerrera and many other legislators have said Connecticut wants Metro-North’s new leadership to succeed, but have stressed that the railroad can’t continue with shoddy and unsafe service.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, called the plan “a start,” but said she was disappointed that it doesn’t commit to reinstituting random safety inspections of trains and crews.

“He’s talking about safety measures, but he’ll need to have proof that they’re happening. Put people you can trust, people with integrity, out to do random inspections,” she said.