Railroad official gets earful about Metro-North woes
NEW HAVEN — A group of Fairfield County leaders on Monday handed the nation’s top rail regulator a wish list of needed improvements to make the aging Metro-North Railroad safer and more reliable.
“It’s not a matter of being late for dinner,” Martin said of concerns expressed by corporate leaders. “It’s, ‘If the rail line is not functioning, I’m out of here.’ If it fails, (Fairfield County) will be an economic wasteland.”
Feinberg listened to Martin’s concerns, along with pleas for better grade crossings, increased safety for workers and commuters — at times nodding her head in agreement.
She acknowledged that Metro-North operates on aging infrastructure and 100-year-old waterway bridges that often fail to open or close. And she pledged to work with Connecticut to find solutions.
“There are few states as Connecticut so dependent on rail to get to and from work,” Feinberg said. “If something does not work one day, you are tying up the entire corridor, from Washington to Boston.”
“We are trying to maintain the infrastructure,” Feinberg said.
Martin added, “Only the federal government has the resources to cross the towns and cross the states. We can’t fix it a piece at a time. Despite the challenges of fixing the bridges (and other infrastructure), it has a huge return and pays for itself.”
During the discussion, Jayme Stevenson, Darien’s first selectman, said the town needs more parking at its train stations to keep up with growing demand.
“There is a 10-year waiting list for parking,” Stevenson said.
“That’s amazing,” Feinberg said. “I didn’t realize that.”
Feinberg offered access to FRA’s $33 billion loan program, which she said is being revamped and can now be applied to needs such as parking.
“The fund is underutilized,” Blumenthal said. “It’s not grants, it’s loans, and very affordable.”
Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau said investment in safety and reliability are top priorities.
“When I was commuting, it was always a worry about getting there on time. It never occurred to me we might not get there,” Tetreau said, referring to recent train accidents in Connecticut, New York and the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia.
Feinberg agreed there is a problem and said FRA is working with Google maps and other providers to include grade crossings on its maps and mobile applications.
Here are some of the suggestions from municipal leaders:
More parking at railroad stations.
Better safety standards for rail workers.
A greater emphasis on commuter safety.
More investment in aging infrastructure.
Better reliability on Metro-North.
Improved grade crossings.