FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. - A group of Republican state representatives and senators came together Monday afternoon at the Fairfield Metro Station to speak out about the recent spate of problems with Metro-North Railroad and call for reforms.
The legislators called for Metro-North to examine how it runs the commuter railway, which is used by more than 60,000 passengers a day. Last month, Metro-North was hit by a systemwide evening shutdown due to a computer problem and left a train filled with passengers stranded for hours on a frigid night near Westport. Last year, it suffered two derailments, one with fatalities, and an electrical problem that led to two weeks of service disruptions.
In a letter, the legislators urged Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast and new Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti to come before the legislative Transportation Committee and propose goals for safer and more dependable service.
The actions of Metro-North over the past month have “been deplorable,” said state Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield. Both the state and the Department of Transportation need a plan for the 100-year-old infrastructure of the railroad, said McKinney, who also represents Easton, Weston and Westport.
The letter also asks for federal and state assistance to help Metro-North meet these goals and secure the necessary funding to support critical infrastructure improvements.
“A lack of federal investment in Metro-North and poor leadership at the railroad has brought us to a very difficult place,” said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk-Darien. “Metro-North’s New Haven Line is the busiest commuter railroad in the entire United States, and its proper maintenance and reliable operation should be considered nothing less than a point of national pride. This railroad is essential to the economy and quality of life our region, and thousands of commuters rely on it daily.”
The most important issues for commuters, the letter says, include:
- adherence to national safety standards and protocols that are currently not being met;
- a commitment to immediately resolve passenger problems that are now occurring on a weekly basis; and
- providing evidence of management oversight of all employee activities.
“The contract that Connecticut has with Metro-North really holds the state hostage,” state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said at the news conference Monday afternoon. The contract gives Metro-North use of the rails for 60 years, but Connecticut has next to no oversight over the rails that it owns, said Lavielle, who also represents Norwalk and Wilton.
The situation with Metro-North has “become a crisis,” said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton. “This is just not acceptable.” Boucher also represents New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton.
The lawmakers also took issue with the state of Connecticut's practice of taking money out of the Special Transportation Fund and using it to balance the state's General Fund.
These transportation issues will be among those brought up during this year’s legislative session, which begins Wednesday, the lawmakers said.