By STEPHEN SINGER, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The Metro-North Railroad has failed commuters who are fed up with late trains, concerns about safety, rising fares and other chronic problems, Connecticut lawmakers bluntly told the transit agency’s two top executives Thursday.
“What has happened here _ and I hope you understand our frustration on our part _ has been appalling,” said Rep. Antonio Guerrera, the House chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
In a more than two-hour meeting with the committee, Thomas F. Prendergast, chairman and chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Joseph Giulietti, Metro-North president, said the rail service has audited the speed of 3,800 trains, is spending more than $425 million for technology to automatically stop or slow trains to prevent accidents and has established a chief safety officer job.
Commuter complaints on the nation’s second busiest commuter rail line soared to more than 2,000 last month compared with 900 in January 2013, Giulietti said, “so I don’t want you to think that we’re insulated and not hearing it.”
“It’s our job to get those complaints down,” he said.
Giulietti said that Metro-North is working on a 100-day plan recommending major changes — including analyzing each train and running time by sections of track _ and intends to “get back to the basics of good railroading.”
“Trains need to arrive and depart when we say they’ll arrive and depart,” he said, adding that Metro-North will publish new schedules for every train, rail line and branch line to provide reliable train information in May.
Prendergast and Giulietti have faced a storm of criticism over numerous problems last year, including two derailments _ one in the Bronx, N.Y., that left four passengers dead, and a derailment in Bridgeport in May that injured dozens of people.
And a power outage in September forced Metro-North to reduce service for nearly two weeks, infuriating passengers and leading many to take to their cars on crowded Connecticut highways to avoid Metro-North.
In addition, downed wires stranded nearly 200 passengers in 10-degree weather in Westport in January. And passengers have routinely complained about a lack of rail cars, forcing riders to stand through much of the commute.
“We need to bring back Metro-North’s legendary on-time performance,” Giulietti said.
Sen. Toni Boucher, a Wilton Republican, called Metro-North service deplorable and said Connecticut should consider hiring another company that “could run the rail system better and with some pride.”
“People don’t feel they’re getting their money’s worth,” said Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold. “I think there is a cultural problem in Metro-North. Do we have a culture of intentional indifference on the part of the employees with respect to the interest of Metro-North?”
Prendergast said some inspector general reports showed that some employees were conducting personal business while they were supposed to be working and that sufficient controls were lacking. “We need to change that,” he said.
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