Sen. Blumenthal slams Metro-North for ‘laxity and lapse in safety’

UPDATED 6:30 p.m.

This article has been updated with comments from a press conference Friday at the Metro-North stop in Milford.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal says Metro-North Railroad has been fined $552,000 over the past decade for safety violations and defects.

The Connecticut Democrat called it a shameful record that shows an urgent need for immediate attention to safety and reliability.

“There was a laxity and lapse in safety and reliability,” Blumenthal said Friday at a press conference at the Metro-North stop in Milford.

Blumenthal says there were 139 violations since 2004. He says per 100 miles of track, Metro-North had five times the number of safety defects than any other commuter railroad in the country.

“Part of the solution here is tougher and more stringent standards for penalties, oversight and scrutiny,” the senator said.

The data was provided to Blumenthal by the Federal Railroad Administration.

“Civil penalties are one of several enforcement tools designed to promote full compliance with federal safety regulations,” the administration said Friday in an email to News 8. “When we identify a defect or a violation, we act on them and require the offending railroad to rectify its problems.

“As a data-driven agency,” the statement continued, “our inspection and audit data help to inform how, when and where we deploy our limited resources and this approach is largely responsible for the 50 percent reduction in train accidents across the country over the last decade.”

(RELATED: VIDEO: Close call for Blumenthal at Metro-North presser)

A spokeswoman for Metro-North says the nation’s second-largest commuter railroad has made tremendous strides in improving its safety culture after two derailments last year.

Marjorie Anders says Metro-North did a thorough inspection of its tracks and other infrastructure and tightened safeguards on when tracks are put back into service. She says it is implementing other improvements such as anonymous reporting of near-accidents.

Anders says Metro-North shares Blumenthal’s goals to have a safe railroad.

Jim Cameron founded the Commuter Action Group after he resigned from the Metro-North Commuter Rail Council after 19 years.

“Who pays these fines?” Cameron said Friday. “It’s not the railroad because the railroad is really us. We as commuters end up paying the fines for the mistakes that were made by management.”

Added Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan, in an email to News 8:

Metro-North Railroad continues to work every day to correct the safety issues raised by the recent tragic accidents and the subsequent Federal review and recommendations. We have published the corrective actions initiated by our new President through his 100 Day Action Plan, including implementing a Confidential Close Call Reporting System, putting modern inspection technology into service, and ensuring that we have adequate controls in place to protect track workers. We are working with the Federal Railroad Administration and National Transportation Safety Board.

We share Senator Blumenthal’s objective, which is ensuring the safety of our customers, employees and the public at large. Our daily goal is to restore a robust culture of safety at Metro-North, and provide a high level of service quality and reliability that our customers can have confidence in.

A derailment in New York City left four passengers dead and one in Bridgeport injured dozens.

Blumenthal said he wants a hearing with Federal Railroad Administration officials. He’s already got a few questions scribbled down.

“Why they didn’t impose tougher penalties, whether they are lacking in statutory authority and what they’re standards are for the rest of the country?” the senator said.

Stephanie Simoni reporting from Milford

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