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Downed Wire Makes Mess Of Morning Commute For Metro-North New Haven Line Riders

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The board at the New Haven station on May 16, 2014. (credit: Paul Murnane/WCBS 880)

The board at the New Haven station on May 16, 2014. (credit: Paul Murnane/WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Metro-North’s New Haven line commuters faced another morning of delays Friday after service was suspended between Stamford, Conn. and Harrison, N.Y. as officials work to improve railroad safety.

Service was suspended for a time during the morning rush after a downed overhead catenary electric line blocked three of four tracks in the vicinity of Cos Cob, Conn., spokeswoman Marjorie Andres said.

The catenary line supplies propulsion power to the trains. It appears that a contractor who was loading railroad ties overnight hit the wire with a crane, Andres said.

Repair crews responded to the scene and service was restored in both direction shortly after 8 a.m. Riders were told to anticipate delays of 30-60 minutes.

The incident came just hours before Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials and lawmakers were to meet to discuss Metro-North’s safety and training plans in response to the Federal Railroad Administration’s “Operation Deep Dive” report.

The report, which was released in March, found the railroad allowed its emphasis on trains’ on-time performance to “routinely” overshadow its safety operations.

The report also said employees reported pressure from the railroad’s operations control center to rush when responding to signal failures; workers had trouble getting needed track time to make essential repairs; and cellphone use by track workers “appeared to be quite commonplace.”

The FRA recommended 27 actions the railroad needed to take to ensure safety and gave it 60 days to come up with the action plan.

The railroad issued its action plan Thursday and Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti said 14 of those recommendations already have been implemented.

“We’ve been working very closely with teams of experts from the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board,” the MTA’s Aaron Donovan told WCBS 880′s Paul Murnane. “Every aspect of Metro-North is now being overhauled in the name of safety.”

MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said Metro-North is striving to improve.

“At the start of this, we would have maybe one good rush hour out of ten good rush hours in a week,” he said. “Then you build it to two, then you build it to three, then you build it to close to ten.”

The railroad’s action plan includes new speed restrictions, the installation of a system designed to halt trains before they crash and the outfitting of trains with “alerter” systems, which require engineers to respond to ensure they have not fallen asleep.

The railroad said it also is conducting about 500 audits a month to ensure engineers are not speeding.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, called the plan an important first step.

“I remain concerned that deadlines for serious infrastructure and technology improvements remain amorphous, including adoption of a close-call reporting system, installation of alerters and cameras and positive train control systems,” he said.

State Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, the ranking Republican on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, told the Connecticut Post the report needs to be followed by more action.

“It’s a whole lot of promises and it’s good they are working on it,” she said. “But we will have to see the changes to see if it works out. It’s what they get done, not what they put out in press releases.”

The FRA’s inquiry was prompted by a Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx that killed four passengers and injured about 70 others when the engineer approached a the dangerous Spuyten-Duyvil curve going 82 miles per hour.

In addition to the Bronx crash, the report cited a May 17, 2013 derailment in Bridgeport, Conn. that injured more than 50 people, some seriously, and cost “millions” in property damage; a May 28, 2013, accident in West Haven, Conn., that killed a Metro-North worker; and a July 18, 2013 freight train derailment in the Bronx that resulted in “significant” property damage.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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