Metro-North fined $552,000 over past decade, Blumenthal says
Senator says railroad has paid $552G for more than 100 safety violations
NEW HAVEN >> Two Connecticut Democrats have made Metro-North’s safety issues a priority in response to deaths, complaints and violations in recent years.
The nation’s second-largest commuter railroad has been fined $552,000 over the past decade for more than 100 safety violations and defects, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Friday.
The data released on the fines was announced as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy rolled out his outline for expectations and priorities for the railroad service’s performance in light of Metro-North’s anticipated May schedule change.
Blumenthal, while standing on the platform at the Milford train station Friday, said this is the beginning of holding railroad administrators accountable and getting Metro-North “back on track.”
He called Metro-North’s a shameful record that shows an urgent need for immediate attention to safety and reliability.
There were 139 violations since 2004, Blumenthal said, citing data he received from the Federal Railroad Administration. He said per 100 miles of track, Metro-North had five times the number of safety defects than any other commuter railroad in the country.
“It took years for there to be a deep-down investigation,” Blumenthal said. “There should have been one much earlier, and part of the solution here is tougher, more stringent standard(s) for penalties.”
A message left Friday with Metro-North seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned. A spokeswoman said earlier this month that Metro-North generally does better during federal inspections than most railroads.
In a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metro-North, Malloy urged the railroad service to use the May schedule change as an opportunity to focus on the goals of safety, reliability and optimal trip times while addressing customer complaints about late, crowded and slow trains.
“I expect that the new schedule will reflect your commitment to deliver a comprehensive program of safe, reliable and fast service in Connecticut,” Malloy wrote. “Indeed, Connecticut will not approve the new schedule without it.”
The railroad had two derailments last year, one in New York City that left four passengers dead and one in Bridgeport that injured dozens.
“While not every reported defect is a serious safety threat, the magnitude of violations is deeply troubling,” Blumenthal said. “The pertinence and practical importance of these defects is staggeringly clear. One of the most serious failings — broken or cracked joint bars, loose rail braces and missing bolts — almost certainly caused the Bridgeport derailment and collision, which resulted in more than 70 injuries and paralyzed the regional economy.”
Of the 139 violations, 60 involved accident reporting; 11 were alcohol and drug violations; 27 were passenger equipment safety standards; 14 were railroad operating practices; three were roadway worker protection; and five were track safety standards, Blumenthal said.
He criticized the Federal Railroad Administration for not imposing steeper fines or stepping up its enforcement until last year despite a spike in violations five years earlier.
“These fines are shocking in sheer frequency, but what is frankly incomprehensible and unacceptable is the Federal Railroad Administration’s inexplicable failure to do its job and demand changes and improvements as these defects and fines mounted,” Blumenthal said.
The senator said the Metro-North crisis calls for a “change in personnel” within the company, stating that there will be new standards and expectations.
“We’re going to want to hear from the new leadership in Metro-North about how they’re changing safety and reliability practices,” he said. “Also, to the Federal Railroad Aministration about their expectations are what their standards are going to be.
A message left Friday with the Federal Railroad Administration seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.
The FRA said in a report to Congress last month that Metro-North allowed safety to erode while pushing to keep its trains on time. The agency ordered the railroad to immediately “prioritize safety above all else” and required Metro-North to submit plans of action within 60 days.
Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, who took office after the Bronx derailment, said last month that the report was “deeply troubling, and it raises real concerns.”
“Safety was not the top priority,” he said. “It must be, and it will be. ... Every problem I have seen here can be fixed and will be fixed.” He said “aggressive actions” already are underway, including a program that would allow workers to make confidential calls raising safety issues.
Blumenthal said the public can soon began to rebuild trust in the service as a result of the heightened safety precautions and penalties.
Metro-North declined to comment in regards to Malloy’s letter.