FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – The 100-day improvement plan Metro-North submitted to the state was met with skepticism and concerns by lawmakers across Fairfield County.
“I am disappointed that the letter did not provide more specifics. I understand the constraints that Metro-North faces because of the [Federal Railroad Administration] investigation, and 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,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said Tuesday.
The letter, delivered on Monday, came after a terrible year for the commuter rail, especially along the New Haven Line in Connecticut. Metro-North has experienced two major derailments -- one in Fairfield -- injuring dozens of passengers and killing four; service interruptions due to power failures and computer problems; signal problems along its Danbury Branch; stranded trains and passengers; and late and canceled trains, especially on snowy and cold days.
New Metro-North President Joseph Guilietti in the letter to state Transportation Commissioner James Redeker details what the commuter rail plans to take on over the next 100 days, including:
- Promoting a culture of safety;
- Adopting concrete safety enhancements;
- Restoring reliable service; and
- Improving communications.
Guilietti said he wants to “rebuild a culture of safety at Metro-North to serve as the railroad’s unshakable foundation.”
“Our priorities are simple,” Giulietti wrote. “We need to operate safely. We need to start communicating better. We need to bring back Metro-North’s legendary on-time performance.”
The summary of steps does not include scope, schedule and budget, he said.
In the letter, Guilietti says the plan works to get back to "the basics of good railroading" but says everything cannot be done in 100 days. Metro-North is also awaiting input from the three external investigations -- by the Federal Railroad Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Blue Ribbon Panel -- expected later this year.
"As it stands, this document is a plan in name only, more a set of aspirations than an actionable roadmap for concrete improvements. Still, I am hopeful that this plan marks the start of long-overdue renewed focus on safety and reliability at Metro-North—both for passengers and workers,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
The signal system modifications, cameras, safety alert mechanisms, comprehensive track maintenance and improved communication systems mentioned in the plan “are long overdue and should be implemented immediately,” Blumenthal said.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, echoed the governor's desire for more concrete information regarding the plan, including deadlines and benchmarks.
“Connecticut commuters deserve swift action on new standards to ensure that Metro-North provides safe, reliable train service. On-time, safe rail service is critical to Connecticut’s economy,” said Etsy, who represents Danbury.
But even if the 100-day plan brings improvements, the legislature has an obligation to look at the 60-year contract the state has with Metro-North, said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton.
“There is much riding on Metro-North management’s ability to learn from recent failures and turn things around. Area Realtors have told me that their clients might consider moving out of Connecticut rather than be faced with on an unreliable railroad to get to work on time,” said Boucher, who also represents New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston and Westport.