HARTFORD — Connecticut lawmakers on Wednesday expressed anger and concern about recent accidents on the Metro-North commuter rail line, with some suggesting the state should investigate whether another vendor might better operate the railroad.
“It might be a very good process to vet other vendors, to get a lot of these issues out, to bring out the contract that we have with Metro-North to see where the problems lie,” Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, told Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, who appeared before the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee to answer questions about Metro-North and rail-related matters.
Boucher said she believes Metro-North, which operates the New Haven Line under a contract with the DOT, has a “credibility issue” following a recent spate of problems. Earlier this month, there was a deadly derailment on a Metro-North line in New York. In May, a derailment in Bridgeport injured 76 people and a track foreman was struck and killed in a separate incident.
Boucher, who has served in the General Assembly since 1997, said she is now receiving calls from constituents who say they don’t feel safe riding the trains.
“I’ve never heard that before,” she said.
Redeker said he appreciates the anxiety but said he’s confident the condition of the railroad “is in better shape than ever” and that Metro-North is focusing on safety and currently conducting a “deep review” of the recent incidents to ultimately improve practices. Other investigations of the railroad are also being conducted in the wake of the accidents.
“I’m more confident than ever in the railroad,” he said.
While there are other rail operators, Redeker said it would be difficult to find one to easily replace Metro-North, whose rail system is tightly woven into the New Haven Line, which consists of the New Haven main line and the New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury branch lines. The New Haven Line serves stations from New Haven to Greenwich and on to Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Metro-North is overseen by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a transportation network that serves 5,000-square-mile area fanning out from New York City, through Long Island, southeastern New York and into Connecticut.
“I wouldn’t do it lightly,” Redeker said of switching vendors after 30 years.
“It’s just a very, very complex operation.”
Redeker said when rail operators have been changed elsewhere, service has not always improved. He said Metro-North has been responsive to Connecticut since the recent incidents, on Tuesday providing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with a report on recent infrastructure, technology and safety actions on the system.
But both co-chairmen of the legislature’s Transportation Committee said they feel like Connecticut has no leverage with Metro-North, putting the state at the railroad operator’s mercy.
“It like, it’s my show, you have no say, just pay the bill, that’s it,” said Rep. Antonio “Tony” Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill.
“I think there’s a feeling here for some accountability,” said Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, adding how Connecticut pays about two-thirds of the New Haven Line’s operating budget.
The lawmakers said they plan to invite representatives from Metro-North to Hartford for a future committee hearing. The new legislative session convenes on Feb. 5.