The top leaders of Metro-North came to Hartford to accept a public dressing down Monday from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and acknowledge that a spate of accidents and service interruptions are symptomatic of problems deep within the nation’s busiest commuter railroad.
“It’s not by coincidence. There’s something going in the organization,” said Thomas F. Prendergast, the chairman and chief executive of the railroad’s parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “There are management and cultural issues, and I think we’ll find those, and we’ll root them out.”
Prendergast and Joseph J. Giulietti, the newly appointed president of Metro-North, met privately with Malloy and top administration officials at the State Capitol, then stood by as the governor described the railroad’s management in withering terms during a televised news conference.
“I have made perfectly clear, as I think was evident to both of the gentlemen, that they have lost the confidence of many of our riders and our citizens in the state of Connecticut, and it is their job to earn it back,” Malloy said.
Malloy said a series of major incidents, as well as a general deterioration of service on what not long ago was regarded as one of the best-run commuter systems, was made worse by a failure at the top ranks of the MTA and Metro-North to communicate with commuters and Connecticut officials.
The governor said he and his transportation commissioner, James Redeker, agree that the railroad’s errors and its reaction to those incidents have created an atmosphere of “mistrust and distrust.”
“I think it was frank. I think it was honest,” Malloy said of the meeting. “I think they know the hole they dug.”
Prendergast and Giulietti did not dispute any of Malloy’s criticisms, and Prendergast refused to say that any of the blame rests with Connecticut or its financial support for the railroad.
“Connecticut has delivered,” he said.
Malloy said Metro-North has agreed to develop a 100-day action plan and has promised that major projects with the potential to disrupt service, such as a power outage that crippled the New Haven line, will first undergo an independent review.
The governor said he will seek competitors to Metro-North for the expanded New Haven to Hartford to Springfield commuter service now being developed, but he downplayed the possibility of finding an alternative to Metro-North as the operator of the New Haven line.
Metro-North exists in cooperation with New York and the MTA, an authority that operates New York City’s subway and bus system, the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North. The MTA is controlled by New York, and Prendergast is an appointee of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Malloy said Connecticut was focused on improving the relationship with the new leadership of the MTA and Metro-North. Prendergast, who said he frequently commutes on Metro-North from his home in Brewster, N.Y., became chairman and chief executive last year after stints running New York City Transit and the Long Island Railroad.
“This is not about who can raise their voice the loudest,” said Malloy, who commuted on Metro-North from Stamford when he was a prosecutor in New York. “This is about who can lead and make sure that we can restore the trust of the ridership and the citizenry of Connecticut.”
Prendergast said the hiring of Giulietti, a Connecticut native who worked for Penn Central, Conrail and Metro-North before becoming the executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, was an important first step.
“We stand aligned with the governor and the people of Connecticut in focusing on restoring Metro-North service to the levels it once had,” Prendergast said. “We are pleased to be able to announce Joe Giulietti as the leader of that organization. As you all know, an organization follows its leader by example.”
Howard Permut stepped down as president in January after a year of horrors and miscues, including a derailment in Bridgeport, a foreman struck and killed in West Haven and the failure of a feeder cable that knocked out the New Haven line. But the low point was the derailment in the Bronx in December that claimed four lives, the first passenger deaths in the 30-year history of the railroad.
The service interruptions continued this year. In January, thousands of commuters were stranded when a power failure at a control center in Grand Central Station stalled service on a three lines. On Friday, Metro-North ran a limited schedule after a snowstorm, causing delays and overcrowded trains.
Giulietti said Metro-North was so good it was considered “gold-plated” when he left in 1998. He said he will try to return it to that standard.
John Hartwell, the vice chair of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said Giulietti and Prendergast are saying the right things, though he wished that Guilietti was attending a public meeting about Metro-North at the Pequot Library in Southport on Tuesday night at 7:30.
“He needs to talk directly to the people of Connecticut, and it needs to be soon,” Hartwell said.
Giulietti said he personally “worked the floor” at Grand Central last Friday.
“It’s been quite an interesting week to start,” he said.