News Column

EDITORIAL: Ancient Metro-North Desperately Needs Huge Investments

August 30, 2014

The Hartford Courant



Aug. 30--It's a terrible irony that on Thursday, the day after a report on Metro-North railroad safety came out, a century-old overhead wire snapped, delaying trains during rush hour in Norwalk.

The final report by the panel assigned to study the commuter rail's horrific safety record only confirmed what everyone knows: The railroad is an old, unsafe mess. It has put train punctuality ahead of safety (achieving neither) and neglected maintenance.

At least everybody is on the same page. The report echoes what has been said by most everyone who counts -- including new Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti -- in the wake of last year's misery.

The panel of railroad experts was appointed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to look at the shockingly bad 2013 safety record at three of its operations -- Metro-North, the Long Island Rail Road and New York City's subway system. Metro-North, the nation's busiest commuter railroad and key to this state's economy, was the biggest offender.

Among its major accidents were a derailment in Bridgeport in May 2013 that injured scores of commuting passengers and a crash in the Bronx last December in which four passengers were killed and more than 70 injured.

The accidents and delays attributed to wrong-headed priorities and decaying infrastructure on Metro-North lines have passengers fighting back with angry tweets (see @MetroFingNorth) and even calling 911 at times. Connecticut officials have wondered aloud whether the state should find another vendor to run its commuter railroad.

The MTA's report did not assess blame for the railroad's past mistakes, but has issued 29 recommendations (some of them obvious) to avoid future ones. Among them: Provide more time for track work and bolster the safety culture at Metro-North.

There have been some improvement in the last few months, as even Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Metro-North critic who heads a Senate committee on rail safety, admits. "Under new leadership, Metro-North has begun to take critical measures to improve its internal processes, culture and oversight, and has committed to long-needed safety improvements," he said.

But this is a long-term project. And the critical question is this: Will the legislature and the federal government invest in fixing the railroad, first built in the 1840s? By one estimate, the New Haven line needs $3.6 billion in emergency repairs alone.

That's what will be needed to avoid another dreadful 2013.

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(c)2014 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Hartford Courant (CT)


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