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Metro-North president shares 100-day plan

Published 12:14 pm, Wednesday, March 5, 2014
  • Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti. Photo: Lindsay Perry / Stamford Advocate
    Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti. Photo: Lindsay Perry

 

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A long-awaited plan to improve safety, communications and on-time performance on the New Haven Line within the next 100 days was delivered to state transportation officials Monday, but quickly panned by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and others for lacking specifics.

The 100-day plan submitted by newly installed Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti lays out a summary of more than a dozen recommendations. Giulietti said a more thorough plan is not achievable until the railroad receives the findings of the Federal Railroad Administration's Operation Deep Dive, the National Transportation Safety Board investigations into two derailments and the railroad's own blue-ribbon panel on safety.

"I understand that this summary does not include scope, schedule and budget," Guilietti wrote. "I can commit to those elements of the plan after we receive the results of the MTA panel and the FRA Deep Dive reviews."

The plan includes commitments to finish track work between the Melrose and Woodlawn stations on the Harlem Line before a timetable change in May -- a goal that will enable higher levels of speed in the Bronx where delays have been compounded in the last year by federally mandated speed limits. The current speed limit of 30 mph will increase to 75 mph.

In a statement, Malloy said the plan was informative on Giulietti's direction, but lacked the level of detail he expected, including a greater number of specific deadlines to accomplish goals. By June 11, Malloy said he expected many of the initiatives to be completed and evidence others are in progress.

"I appreciate the candid assessment of the challenges facing Metro-North and Mr. Giulietti's professionalism and commitment, but I am disappointed that the letter did not provide more specifics," Malloy's statement said. " I understand the constraints that Metro-North faces because of the FRA investigation, and while the letter is certainly a roadmap to better and safer service, riders need to know that there is a plan with benchmarks and deadlines in place."

The plan was promised to Malloy two weeks ago after a meeting with Giulietti in which they discussed the ongoing woes at the railroad since last May's derailment of a train in Bridgeport that injured 76 people. Two weeks later, a train struck and killed a veteran foreman in West Haven when a rookie traffic controller mistakenly opened a section of track where the foreman was working.

A more rigorous inspection regimen adopted in the wake of that accident identified the need for significant repairs throughout the Metro-North system, which has resulted in pervasive delays.

In September, the railroad was again questioned when a 138,000-volt feeder cable in Mount Vernon disrupted electric train service for more than 13 days while a second cable was out of commission for repairs, leaving no backup power to drive trains.

In December, four people were killed in a derailment in the Bronx, N.Y. when an engineer dozed off, and a train careened into a sharp curve at 82 miles per hour where the speed limit was 30.

In late January, the entire Metro-North rail network came to a halt on a frigid night when a maintenance crew knocked out power to an auxiliary power system on the railroad's centralized signalization computer.

Other goals and measures included in the report are:

Develop and introduce a new timetable to provide reliable travel times and look at ways to improve on-time performance arriving and departing intermediate stations.

Provide updates to customers and legislators on the status of Metro-North programs through "any and all means."

A comprehensive service disruption plan by June to improve communication with customers during train breakdowns and other service disruptions.

Conduct "Safety Stand Downs" each quarter to allow workers a forum to identify potential safety improvements to their bosses.

Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the plan provides a good starting point from which to discuss locking in deadlines on a long list of potential tasks and improvements.

Redeker said he is anxious for the FRA to release the results of the Deep Dive, which began in December so Giulietti and state transportation officials can begin to assess the cost and extent of mandated safety improvements.

"In general terms, I really appreciate that Joe has prepared a good starting plan and that he is keenly interested in listening to and finding out what FRA wants to do in terms of recommendations for safety and improvements," Redeker said. "He is in a tough spot because FRA has not released findings but he has accomplished a credible and important first step."

Redeker said the extent and cost of implementing the FRA's safety recommendations would factor into what parts of the plan come to pass.

For instance, Redeker said fast-tracking the installation of monitors at New Haven Line stations showing the next nine arriving trains would mollify customers frustrated with communications, but cost about $30 million.

"To me what's important is that the first priority is safety, the second is performance, and the third is communication and I think he has his priorities straight," Redeker said. "As we go on I'd like to work with him on absolute deadlines on as many items as possible."

Jim Cameron, a longtime rail advocate and founder of the Commuter Action Group, said that like Malloy he had hoped to see more hard deadlines and specifics about initiatives but that the plan helps define the scope of the needs to upgrade the system.

"I would call these ambitious but vague goals, and it's up to (Giulietti) on how to achieve them," Cameron said. " I will say at least now we have in writing some goals and agreed upon problems that need work. We'll see in a 100 days how many of these he can achieve."