Metro-North Gets electrical boost

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Connecticut will pump $10 million into augmenting electrical capacity on Metro-North’s New Haven line, state officials announced on Sunday, calling on transit authorities, the state of New York and the federal government to follow suit.

Upgrades to an electrical substation, which are scheduled to begin Monday, come two weeks after power outages riled passengers on the New Haven line, and four months after an outage in New York stalled service for 12 days. Increased power supply will ensure electrical resilience and eventually enable additional services along the rail line running from New Haven’s Union Station to Mount Vernon, N.Y., Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said at a Sunday press conference.

“We simply cannot afford to have a system that our commuters do not have faith in,” Malloy said from a railway platform at Union Station. “The prospect of any number of 60,000 individuals going back to the highways is unthinkable in our state.”

Malloy was joined by Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker and other state and federal officials, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85.

Redeker said crews from Connecticut Light & Power will partner with Metro-North to begin work Monday replacing an electrical transformer on a substation in Cos Cob, a neighborhood in Greenwich, Conn. The project’s first phase will take roughly 16 days, after which crews will begin work on replacing a second substation. Altogether, the proposed updates will nearly double the power supply in the vicinity of the substation.

Malloy said the investment is designed to avert the kind of “catastrophic power outage we saw on the New Haven line last fall,” referring to an outage in Mount Vernon that crippled service for 12 days. The power loss was the result of workers disconnecting a power cable from the railroad’s control center in Mount Vernon during a service update on Sept. 25, 2013.

Redeker said the improvements in Cos Cob will not interfere with rail activities as they did in Mount Vernon. Only de-powering one transformer at once will ensure backup power. A backup shuttle system is in place in the event of service gaps, he added.

Malloy said the second power supply at Mount Vernon had been down for more than 30 days before action was taken, one example of negligence he said will be enumerated in a comprehensive audit scheduled for release in late March. Called Operation Deep Dive, the safety assessment will review Metro-North’s “compliance with federal regulations, its procedures and practices, and its safety culture,” according to a U.S. Department of Transportation release.

Malloy added that he will be meeting on Feb. 13 with Joe Giulietti, the incoming president of Metro-North, as well as Thomas Prendergast, chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which runs Metro-North.

Beyond physical improvements, “the culture … of this railroad has to be completely revamped,” Blumenthal said, adding that he hopes new leadership will bring a renewed concern for the importance of uninterrupted service, both for the sake of commuters and freight.

Malloy said he thinks Prendergast, who assumed the MTA chairmanship just last year, has been “chastened” by the difficulties he has encountered on the job thus far. He said the authority’s willingness to reimburse customers after the September outage was a positive sign that the MTA is seeking to be attentive to the needs of commuters.

In the past, Malloy said, the MTA’s attitude has been, “we know everything.” He said that belief is beginning to change, adding that the state will continue to “press our rights” on safety standards and other requirements under the contract between Metro-North and the Connecticut DOT.

“Connecticut has made tremendous investments in our rail infrastructure in recent years thanks to Governor Malloy,” Prendergast said in a statement. “Joe Giulietti and I look forward to this meeting, which will give all of us a chance to discuss challenges and opportunities for the thousands of customers we serve every day.”

Blumenthal and Esty said the state’s investment should be coupled with broader commitments to improving rail services and safety.

Esty said a passenger rail safety bill was a casualty of the government shutdown last fall. She said she has called four times on the Republican-controlled House to begin hearings on the bill.

Blumenthal said the “elephant on the tracks” is Metro-North: “Where is the MTA in its investment? Where is Congress?”

“This line is the busiest in the whole United States, and Connecticut owns the track, so we’re meeting our responsibility,” Blumenthal said. “But a railroad line is only as good as its weakest link. This upgrade will not change anything about the line going from Connecticut to Grand Central.”

Malloy said Connecticut’s investment is a long-time coming, updating infrastructure that has been underfunded for the past 30 years.

Matt Nemerson SOM ’81, New Haven’s economic development administrator, said the proposed improvements are immensely important to the city’s economy and the wellbeing of its residents.

“The Mayor [Toni Harp ARC ’78] wants to have 10,000 new people living here in the next 10 years,” Nemerson said. “Many of them will have jobs that are either to the north, maybe to the east, certainly to the west — and they will be traveling by train. How this piece of the new northeast logistical system is supported … is one of the most important things for New Haven’s future.”

The project’s $10 million price tag will be covered by bonds already approved by the Connecticut Bond Commission.

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