Guest Opinion: State must take more hands-on approach to Metro-North

NORWALK, Conn. — It is time to take an active role in managing Metro-North as a regional resource. It is clear from recent events that a more comprehensive approach is required. No sooner do we move forward with an infrastructure improvement — $10 million to replace at-risk transformers in Cos Cob — than we get word of failure of another part of the system.  There has been a steady stream of news about railroad crossing accidents, weather-related delays, ancient drawbridges that get stuck, derailments, and now, at least two reports criticizing the agency for failing in its most basic obligations to its customers. The string of incidents range from absurd, to disturbing, to tragic.

The absurd: Last year, technicians pulled the wrong plug, killing power to computers that control train signals from Grand Central Terminal. Fifty trains came to a stop and their riders were stuck in the cars or at stations for two hours before the railroad slowly restored rail traffic operations. The highly touted new M8 rail cars are getting far less mileage between breakdowns than expected, leading to crowded conditions as cars are taken out of service for repair.

The disturbing: Last winter, a train full of commuters was stranded without power or heat for over two hours near Westport, while switch problems delayed a train that had been dispatched to rescue them. Service was disrupted for over a week when the agency took a substation offline for a large maintenance project, only to have the feeder cable fail to the backup substation.

The tragic: A commuter train derailed near Fairfield and side-swiped a train traveling in the opposite direction, injuring dozens of passengers. Four riders were killed in a derailment caused by a train traveling at 80 mph around a 30 mph curve. Preventable track worker deaths occurred in two separate incidents in the last year alone.

Connecticut owns the tracks, trains, the overhead lines and the stations. Metro-North is a contractor that is operating the railroad on our behalf. The contract between Metro-North and Connecticut’s Department of Transportation should impose specific performance standards on Metro-North, and should include ongoing reporting and monitoring of performance. As a state representative, I will work to add performance and safety evaluations to the contract and bring transparency to reporting so commuters can judge for themselves how well Metro-North is doing.

We must also take a hard look at investing in the infrastructure. Commuters already pay almost 60 percent of the operating costs of the railroad through fare collections, the highest contribution in the country, which is why we must make the best use of federal transportation funds, such as the $349 million the state is currently seeking to replace the century-old railroad swing bridge in Norwalk and $245 million to modernize the communication system. Prioritizing these investments with a long-term regional plan will allow us to spend limited funds in ways that will have the most impact on improving safety, service and economic vitality throughout the system, and will make Metro-North a byword for efficiency.

Metro-North is a vital part of our regional economic health, and until recently, had an enviable safety record. Much of what has gone wrong can be put right. With a comprehensive approach to transportation planning in the region, the railroad can regain its former reputation as a safe and efficient transport system and support economic development. It could, and should, help lure businesses to Connecticut, and become a central part of the planning and development for destination cities and towns along the system. Stations can be embassies for local tourism and opportunities for thriving commerce and community.

Former Norwalk Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel is a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives in the 142nd District.


8 responses to “Guest Opinion: State must take more hands-on approach to Metro-North”

  1. John Hamlin

    This is a great letter. We can’t expect our state government to do much, given the dominance of the public employee unions in state politics. But if they could just fix metro north, it would have a huge impact in preserving what’s left of the economy in the New Haven line corridor.

  2. empty promises

    Andy’s political party has been raiding the funds for the railroads for decades. If he goes to Hartford, will he continue that trend? He indicates here that he might actually want to see the taxes we pay towards fixing the railroad do just that. How does he plan to change the culture of his own party if elected?

  3. spanner

    No doubt Andy’s throwing in the kitchen sink seeing if it will stick.

    Surfice crossings have always been a problem and so has bridge strikes but to hear it explained here simply doesn’t show informative research and deliberate understanding to the problems.Compare to other States you may find Ct in a better place than most when it comes to transportation.Go back and do your homework and don’t rely on others to help you out that are already at the State house their records are poor and the interest they have in those who elected them are non existant.

    Our reps are a joke just go watch the footage on cable of the last bout Chris Perone just had on the floor.A substitute for H.B. 5274 will show if this what Andy has going into the election his choice has once again been poor.Know the city know the State before you attempt to correct problems caused by your own party.

  4. Mike Mushak

    Great letter Andy. Members of both parties have raided the fund in emergencies, including Jodi Rell, and locally Larry Cafero voted to raid it in 2010. I don’t think they had much choice as the state had no money anywhere else. Malloy is both adding to the fund and raiding it at the same time. Go figure! I wouldn’t mind paying more for gas to help fix the railroads, since I both drive and take trains and both forms of transportation are essential to a thriving economy in CT. It’s an embarrassment right now.

  5. Oyster

    Blaming the guy who’s running for office, instead of the people who did the so-called “raiding” of the transportation fund. Nice way to change the subject.
    This “raiding the fund” meme is a red herring. In at least one Hartford Courant article, it was posited that the cost of fixing the infrastructure for Metronorth here in Connecticut would have EXCEEDED the entire fund. So what is wrong with suggesting that we make better use of FEDERAL money to restore the system so that it helps the whole region become more economically self-sufficient?

  6. spanner

    minutes ago Lynchburg city Va had a derailment.14 tanker cars were involved 4 have breached those are on fire.Norwalk needs better informed politicians I don’t see it happening soon.This could happen in Norwalk is this news to Andy?

    The incidents that were mentioned in Andy’s leter shows lack of information,a detailed letter could have made more of an impact if the facts were not candy coasted or missed.I’m not sure if the facts are on some of Norwalks reps plate at all.Maybe Andy will be in good company after all.

  7. empty promises

    The ignorance of basic civics by civically involved people here is amazing. You do know that the legislature is responsible for setting spending levels? You do know who has controlled the legislature for almost 50 years straight? Jodi Rell was a lemon too, but the real problems are in the level of spending as authorized by the legislature and what it gets spent on. The governor can play all the tricks they want on the accounting of this mess, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re [throwing] away 500 million on a bus line from New Britain to Hartford, while the main commuter corridor in the state is mostly ignored. And that stupid idea was launched by Roland before you try to make more political obfuscation here.

    This comment has been edited for language

  8. spanner

    minutes ago NY city 1000 people, 4 on 02 have been involved in a derailed train,seems these things happen all the time.Homework! original input elects people not feel good articles.

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