Connecticut rail accidents to be focus of U.S. hearings

HARTFORD (AP) — Federal transportation officials investigating two recent Metro-North Railroad accidents in Connecticut, including the death of a track worker, announced Tuesday they would hold a two-day hearing in October.

Representatives of Metro-North, government officials, labor unions and others will be witnesses Oct. 22 and 23 and address issues on track inspection and maintenance, crash standards for railroad passenger cars, protection of on-track work zones and organizational safety.

Two commuter trains crashed on May 17 in Bridgeport, injuring more than 70 people. Five were critically injured.

Less than two weeks later, Robert Luden, a track foreman, was struck and killed by a train at the West Haven station, which was under construction.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the hearings will help publicize safety improvements to tracks, cars and equipment. For example, Metro-North announced in June it was installing shunts on portions of the New Haven rail line to alert controllers and give approaching trains a stop signal.

“I’m encouraged, but I want more progress and want to have fuller reports before I draw any conclusions,” Blumenthal said.

One of the “good news stories” from the derailment and subsequent crash is that advanced technology used to build Metro-North cars probably helped save lives, he said.

The NTSB said in June that the inspection on May 15, two days before the derailment, found an insulated rail joint with inadequate supporting ballast and indications of vertical movement of the track system.

The agency said sections of rail in the area of the derailment containing rail joint bars were removed and shipped to a lab in Washington for further examination. Previously, it said a joint bar, used to hold two sections of rail together, had been cracked and repaired, while a rail spokesman says it was replaced.

Metro-North reviewed its operating and safety programs after the derailment. The railroad retained the research affiliate of the American Association of Railroads to assess track maintenance and inspection programs, inspected all rail joints that were similar to the one in the area of the derailment and increased inspections using specialized equipment borrowed from other railroads.



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