Washington – Metro-North was slammed by Connecticut politicians Friday as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy criticized the passenger railroad’s new schedule, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal unveiled a study that showed the rail company paid more than $500,000 in safety-related fines in the last decade.
In a letter to Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, Malloy said he did not understand why the accident-prone railroad plans to add minutes to train times and reduce its target for on-time performance.
“Minimizing travel time is critical of riders of the New Haven Line and fundamental to my economic development strategy in Connecticut,” the governor wrote.
But Malloy is feeling the heat from Connecticut commuters, who complain of overcrowding, late and slow trains. The governor told Giulietti that safety, reliability and “optimal trip times are mutually attainable goals.”
Metro-North had no immediate response to the governor’s letter.
The National Transportation Safety Board has four ongoing investigations into Metro-North accidents that have occurred since May 2013. Metro-North is also implanting a “100-day improvement strategy.”
But Blumenthal is not satisfied with those measures. On Friday he repeated a call for a “safety overhaul” of the commuter railroad, offering data on $552,000 in fines incurred by Metro-North over the past decade for 139 safety violations and defects.
“The sheer number of violations is staggering … encompassing serious lapses in safety standards and procedure,” Blumenthal said. “While not every reported defect is a serious safety threat, the magnitude of violations is deeply troubling.”
Blumenthal also said that, per 100 miles of track, Metro-North has had five times the number of safety defects than any other commuter railroad in the country, “a truly shameful record.”
According to Blumenthal’s study, the greatest number of violations since 2004 were for violations in reporting accidents. There were 60 such violations.
The next largest group of violations, 27, involved passenger equipment safety. Others involved use of alcohol or drugs, worker safety issues and track standards.
Violations spiked in 2008, after the FRA began to perform random audits that found significantly more violations than previously reported.
Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan said, “We share Senator Blumenthal’s objective, which is ensuring the safety of our customers, employees and the public at large.”
Donovan cited several steps that the railroad has taken to “correct the safety issues raised by the recent tragic accidents and the subsequent federal review and recommendations.”
Those included a “Confidential Close Call Reporting System,” putting modern inspection technology into service, and ensuring that we have adequate controls in place to protect track workers,” Donovan said.
“Our daily goal is to restore a robust culture of safety at Metro-North, and provide a high level of service quality and reliability that our customers can have confidence in.”
Blumenthal criticized the FRA for not imposing steeper fines or stepping up its enforcement efforts sooner.
“In many cases, these fines were inadequate slaps on the wrist — including $5,000 for the glaring safety lapses that resulted in the death of Metro-North worker Robert Luden on May 28 last year,” he said.
“A worker was killed needlessly, and the penalty was a shameful pittance. The purpose of a fine is to change behavior, and that clearly hasn’t happened here. If the law needs to be toughened, let’s do it.”