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Malloy: Rail project different this time

Updated 3:19 pm, Monday, February 3, 2014

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  • Governor Dannel P. Malloy, right, fields questions following his announcement of upgrades to Metro-North's New Haven Line, at Union Station in New Haven, Conn. on Sunday, February 2, 2014. With Malloy from left are Senator Richard Blumenthal, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, not pictured, Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker, and 5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty. Photo: Brian A. Pounds / Connecticut Post
    Governor Dannel P. Malloy, right, fields questions following his announcement of upgrades to Metro-North's New Haven Line, at Union Station in New Haven, Conn. on Sunday, February 2, 2014. With Malloy from left are Senator Richard Blumenthal, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, not pictured, Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker, and 5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty. Photo: Brian A. Pounds

 

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It was a friendly warning to commuters, couched within good news.

On Sunday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his transportation chief stood by the tracks at the New Haven train station to announce that a long-planned, $10 million power upgrade for Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line starts Monday.

That was also the warning.

The 16-day project to de-energize and replace old transformers in Cos Cob is similar to the work that was underway last September at a Mount Vernon, N.Y., substation when an electrical failure paralyzed regional rail service for days.

The message Sunday was that three parties that have stakes in the Cos Cob upgrades -- the state Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro-North's parent agency) and Connecticut Light & Power -- have applied the lessons learned from the Mount Vernon debacle.

"This is a very different approach," Malloy said.

He said the parties began with the assumption there would be a problem at Cos Cob and have developed detailed project management and contingency plans. Malloy said the work is being done in a shorter time frame and there are back-up plans for powering the trains or -- in case of "catastrophic failure" -- busing commuters to their destinations.

After the Sept. 25 power failure, Metro-North scrambled to activate its diesel trains and buses, but advised riders that there would only be room for about one third of the normal passenger load.

"Clearly, there was an unbelievable lack of planning," Malloy said Sunday.

Sunday's announcement came one day before a Monday news conference scheduled by members of the Connecticut General Assembly's Transportation Committee.

Those legislators plan to reveal a letter they are sending to the federal transportation secretary and other key federal agencies requesting help in improving Metro-North. The legislators also want to hold an informational hearing in Hartford and invite Metro-North's new president, Joseph Giulietti.

In New Haven, James Redeker, Connecticut's transportation commissioner, said his agency did a "top down review" ahead of the Cos Cob project.

"The president of the MTA and I and CL&P signed off on this plan," Redeker said.

Representatives with both Metro-North and CL&P were also present in New Haven, but did not speak.

In a joint statement afterward, however, John Kesich, Metro-North's senior vice president of operations, said, "Because of lessons learned ... during a serious disruption to New Haven Line service last fall during a power upgrade (at) Mount Vernon, the work at Cos Cob is being done in stages and a comprehensive contingency plan has been developed."

James Cameron, a longtime rail commuter advocate, summed up Sunday's news conference.

"We're going to fix something, but we're not going to do it the way they did it in New York," Cameron said of the approach to the Cos Cob project. "Watch this -- I'm going to clean my gun, but not shoot myself in the foot."

The Mount Vernon disruption was part of an abysmal year for Metro-North, beginning with last May's derailment on the Bridgeport-Fairfield border. And the railroad's troubles have continued into 2014.

In January, service disruptions left an evening commuter train stranded outside of Westport, and a systemwide power failure the following night was reportedly caused by what amounted to an employee unhooking the wrong wire. Then on Tuesday, a 34-year-old Metro-North engineer in training was charged with public indecency and suspended after he allegedly masturbated on a train.

On Sunday, Malloy said he is keenly aware that commuters have lost patience with the rail service.

"Quite frankly, we can't afford for that situation to exist," he said Sunday. "I am committed to getting the New Haven line back where it needs to be."

brian.lockhart@scni.com; 203-414-0712; http://twitter.com/blockhart1