An increasingly frustrated group of lawmakers from both political parties has summoned the incoming chief of Metro-North to testify before a legislative committee following a recent spate of problems at the rail system.
The legislators have also written to transportation officials in Washington and the state's congressional delegation asking the federal government to provide both managerial and technical help as well as funding for repairs and maintenance on the New Haven line.
"Basically folks...we've had it," Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill and co-chairman of the legislature's transportation committee, said at a press conference Monday morning at the Capitol. "We're fed up...and we need changes here. We're asking that when a new president comes on board....we expect him to come in front of our committee with some concrete goals and objectives to turn Metro-North around."
State Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican from Wilton who is the ranking member of the transportation committee, called the commuter rail line "the lifeblood of lower Fairfield County's economy." An erosion of trust among the railway's ridership has a direct negative impact on the entire region, she said.
"The problems [that] have been mounting over the last 2 years really have reached a crisis point," said Boucher, a Republican who is considering a campaign for governor.
The state legislators are just the latest officials to demand changes at the rail line after a string of setbacks and problems. After lengthy delays following a power outage in October and three separate accidents that killed a veteran track worker and four passengers , Metro-North has been the target of scathing criticism from a number of high-profile politicians, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Marjorie Anders, a Metro-North spokeswoman, declined to comment on the state lawmaker's latest request. However the railroad's management pledged to cooperate with government officials.
"MTA Metro-North Railroad works closely with the federal government and our Connecticut partners to achieve our shared goal of a safe and reliable railroad," the company said in a written statement. "MTA Metro-North Railroad is actively cooperating with the Federal Railroad Administration, which is conducting a 60-day 'Deep Dive' review of the railroad's operations and it expected to report its findings by the end of the month."
"Metro-North is not waiting for this review to be completed to implement improvements. Since December, improvements have been identified and are in the process of being made to the railroad's infrastructure, its railcars and to its communication procedures. The railroad is in the process of reviewing its schedules based upon current operating conditions," the statement said.
Both Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman & CEO Thomas F. Prendergast and incoming Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti will meet with Malloy on Feb. 13, which will be Giulietti's fourth day on the job. "In addition, they look forward to working closely with Connecticut Legislature and Connecticut's Congressional delegation to restore confidence in the railroad and to secure the significant funding for infrastructure improvements that are so sorely needed on the New Haven Line, including replacement of four moveable bridges, one of which is 120 years old," the company said.
Metro-North is about halfway through a 60-year contract with the state to provide rail service on the New Haven line. Under the terms of the contract, Connecticut will pay Metro-North about $70 million this year to run trains between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal, as well as on the Waterbury, New Canaan and Danbury branch lines. Connecticut buys the trains and owns all of the tracks to the New York border, but other than setting fares or schedules, the state has virtually no official say in how the railroad operates. The agreement calls for a periodic review of the rail system's operation; the next assessment is due next year.