With a growing legion of increasingly angry Metro-North riders bombarding their elected officials with emails and tweets detailing their frustrations with the railroad's ongoing failures and crises, Republican and Democratic legislators called Monday for help from the federal government.
"We've had it," state Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, said at a news conference in Hartford. "It's very frustrating on the part of members of this committee that represent many constituents who use the railroad every day and get emails that they've lost confidence in Metro-North. That's unheard of, and we're not going to put up with it."
The current run of problems began in May with the collision of two trains in Bridgeport. The rest of the year continued similarly, with a track worker killed by a train, four people killed in a derailment in the Bronx, a massive power outage that crippled most of the New Haven Line for several weeks, on top of erratic service. The new year got off to a bad start with an unheated train stuck for hours between stations, a badly executed repair that cut power to the entire signal system, and most recently, an employee accused of engaging in a lewd act on a napping passenger.
Nine months after these problems began, the two chairmen and ranking members of the state Legislature's Transportation Committee sent a letter to federal Department of Transportation Commissioner Anthony Foxx, Federal Transit Administration Administrator Peter Rogoff, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state's Congressional delegation demanding that Metro-North meet safety requirements they said are not being complying with, and help resolve passenger complaints and show evidence of oversight of employee activities.
Some of the legislators involved said later that the letter did not go far enough.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who appeared at a related news conference held by Republicans at the Fairfield Metro station Monday, said she wanted a takeover of Metro-North and to install an oversight board to run it.
"It's our responsibility to keep pressure on Metro-North so they can live up to the contract with the state," Boucher said. "We want them before the Transportation Committee, not just have them hire a consultant. We want national funding for infrastructure to be prioritized," Boucher said.
The letter was a bipartisan effort among 50 to 100 legislators, she said, all of whom had to be comfortable with what was sent.
Legislators agreed the Transportation Committee's hands are tied by the way the operating agreement between the state and Metro-North Railroad is set up, leaving them little power even to prescribe minimal service standards, create incentives to do a better job or mete out punishment when service fails.
The committee members talked about replacing Metro-North with a new rail operator and imposing additional requirements on the state's 60-year contract with Metro-North. Speaking at the committee's meeting, state Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker said such changes would be quite difficult.
"We have a very difficult contract with our vendor," Boucher said. "We've seen other states like Massachusetts go out to bid to replace their vendors. We don't want to do that. We'd like to see things be fixed. But everything has to be on the table."
Guerrera said he is considering calling for an oversight committee comprised of legislators and state experts to look at Metro-North and review its operation and make recommendations. He said he would like to suspend the 60-year contract between Connecticut and Metro-North, but added he is not sure that is legal or possible.
"It's not like there are too many people who want to take it over," Guerrera said.
If the federal government stepped in, it's not clear what role it could play. Beyond the three stated goals, the letter and legislators did not detail other specific areas in which they hoped Congress and officials might help to improvethe railroad's safety and dependability.