Himes, DeLauro call on Metro-North to improve emergency communications
Published 12:25 pm, Friday, July 29, 2011
U.S. Reps. Jim Himes and Rosa DeLauro, both D-Conn., are holding Metro-North Railroad officials' feet to the fire after a punishing heat wave last Friday caused massive delays and left hundreds of passengers to bake under a blazing sun that warmed broken-down train cars like ovens.
Himes and DeLauro called on railroad officials Thursday to investigate why passengers were left stranded on overheated trains with little information and no safe exit. The politicians are urging Metro-North to establish a procedure for communicating with passengers about stalls and emergencies.
Triple-digit temperatures last Friday caused overhead power lines to droop, disabling three trains, including a New Haven-bound train stalled for 50 minutes on the tracks near the Green's Farms station in Westport. Though no trapped commuters became seriously ill, multiple passengers made 911 calls reporting possible cases of heat exhaustion or other distress, including concerns about three pregnant women, officials in Westport said.
"Reports from passengers aboard these trains are alarming," reads a letter to Metro-North officials signed by DeLauro and Himes. "Commuters were stranded in train cars with no power as their surrounding temperatures reached over 100 degrees. Meanwhile, they received no information from train officials, leaving them confused, helpless and, given the weather conditions, in potential physical danger."
Interviewed at the Fairfield railroad station Thursday, Kevin Kelly, 44, of Fairfield, said he had a two-and-a-half hour commute Friday.
"It was ridiculous. They just said `We're delayed for an undetermined period of time' in Stamford," he said. "We just sat in Stamford. They didn't give you information as to what was going on, why we were delayed or what the problem was that was delaying us."
Another commuter, Victor Hernandez, 41, also of Fairfield, did not experience any delays Friday.
"I've been taking the train here for about six years and its very rarely delayed, he said. "I think their on-time rates are pretty good, to be honest with you.
Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the railroad is already working with local emergency responders to review the extreme temperature-related incidents that troubled the New Haven Line last week. The results of the review will be made public, she said.
Anders blamed the issues on a combination of heat-related damage to drooped power wires and more than 40-year-old equipment that is desperately in need of replacing. The state has already begun to bring new cars onto the line, as new M-8s are in service.
DeLauro and Himes acknowledged the dire need for railcar upgrades to prevent future breakdowns due to extreme weather conditions. However, they said they are most troubled by the railroad's failure to communicate effectively with panicked passengers.
"Until we complete the long overdue replacement of railcars and electrical systems on the Metro North line, we need to ensure that we have policies and procedures in place for future problems," DeLauro said in a prepared statement. "These kinds of delays and miscommunication are not only inconvenient, they can be dangerous.
"I will keep working, along with my colleagues, to improve our rail infrastructure and ensure that commuters can reach their destination safely and on time."