Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said this week that a forthcoming 100-day plan from Metro-North Railroad's new president to improve the New Haven Line must work or the railroad will face consequences from Connecticut.
"I think he understands the significance and the role he must now play," Malloy said of rail chief Joseph Giulietti.
Malloy said Giulietti and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Thomas Prendergast are scheduled to submit the improvement plan within two weeks.
"This will all be best if Metro-North can get its act together," Malloy said.
Malloy dominated a press conference Monday at the state Capitol in Hartford, where little else was said about the plan to reverse the downward spiral of service, although Giulietti and Prendergast were both there.
One concept Malloy rejected as unlikely would be to try to hire another vendor to replace Metro-North to run the New Haven Line. But the governor expressed frustration with a joint operating agreement that limits the state's ability to impose performance standards.
"The question is, how fast can this new leadership team ... restore service?" Malloy said. "How much leverage do we have? Not a whole lot."
"I've made it perfectly clear they have lost the confidence of many of our riders and citizenry in Connecticut," Malloy said at the news conference. "I think it was frank, I think it was honest. I think they know the hole they dug and I think they are going to come up, hopefully in two weeks time, with a plan to make real progress in the state of Connecticut."
Though he was short on specifics, Malloy said that during the hour-long meeting Giulietti told him he was already working on a 100-day plan that would improve communication with dissatisfied riders, and that the railroad was committing to deadlines to complete track work that is causing bottlenecks in the Bronx, N.Y.
"That 100-day plan needs to come forward, and there needs to be a very public discussion with respect to what (Giulietti's) expectations are about what he expects to accomplish," Malloy said. "Let's be very clear, that's what the 100-day plan better have."
Giulietti and his management will also participate in quarterly commuter forums in Connecticut, Prendergast said.
Malloy has been increasingly critical of the railroad in recent months after a series of service troubles that began with the derailment of a train and collision with another in Bridgeport that injured 76 people last May. Malloy said the long string of incidents, including the death of a Metro-North foreman in West Haven last year, indicates that the railroad's management needs to be improved.
"What's gone wrong?" Malloy said. "Maybe for a long time the focus was so much on time performance, perhaps they took their eye off safety and reliability for a time."
After being introduced by Prendergast, Giulietti, who took the helm of the railroad last week, touched on his previous stint in Metro-North's early growth period, and on the progress made to upgrade service after Metro-North took control of Conrail, which was running the New Haven Line before 1983.
Giulietti joined Metro-North that year, after 11 years with Conrail, before leaving in 1998 for Tri-Rail in south Florida. At Metro-North, he served as a superintendent of rail operations and in other senior management posts.
"Having started (during the Conrail era), and leaving in 1998 to go down to Florida, I can honestly say (Metro-North) was a railroad that was considered gold-plated and extremely well-run," Giulietti said. "My commitment is to work with the state of Connecticut and I look forward to our relationship going forward.
Prendergast said some of the railroad's safety and management problems are at least partially due to retirements at the railroad and track maintenance practices.
"When you have so many incidents, there are management and cultural issues, and we'll root them out," he said. "It starts with the selection of a chief executive who understands the importance of critical maintenance and adherence to rules, and will be able to sort those things out."
Giulietti gave an explanation of Metro-North's decision to reduce service last Friday, when the railroad expected fewer riders after heavy snowfall the day before. Some storm models called for heavy snow Friday, justifying a sharp cutback of service to ensure that trains ran safely, Giulietti said.
After an online backlash from customers Friday morning, the railroad added 21 extra trains to pick up a backlog of afternoon travelers piling up on platforms at Grand Central Terminal, a decision Giulietti said he made.
"We did everything we could to make sure (it was safe) ... and did everything to make sure we didn't get people stuck out on the main line," Giulietti said.
John Hartwell, vice chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said he was encouraged by Giulietti's reputation as a rail executive who is interested in having a hand in day-to-day operations.
"They didn't come and say nothing is wrong with the system," Hartwell said. "We have a new president who seems to have a good rapport with the people who work on the railroad every day, but we really heard from the governor is that he's going to be all over this."