HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP)U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal has been named chairman of a key transportation subcommittee as he works to enforce passenger safety laws.

The Democrat on Thursday held his first hearing as chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation in Washington. He was to discuss his priorities for rail safety in an appearance Friday in Hartford.

As WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau reported, Blumenthal is drafting new laws aimed at enforcing regulations that protect rail safety.

Blumenthal has stressed the importance of renewed investment in rail infrastructure and strong federal oversight. He has said he intends to develop legislation that would force the Federal Railroad Administration and National Transportation Safety Board to emphasize measures to improve the safety and reliability of commuter and freight rail.

“Federal legislation seems to be absolutely necessary to enable and empower but also require the federal watchdogs to really do their job more effectively to develop the rules and enforce them,” Blumenthal told Schneidau. “The federal agencies and watchdogs have been asleep or absent. They’ve been laggard and lax in holding the Metro-North Railroad and others like it across the country accountable.”

Blumenthal said higher standards are needed and is looking to raise the bar in his new leadership role.

Labor and commuter rail advocates were expected to join Blumenthal at the Legislative Office Building on Friday.

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