It's a message that we've heard from commuter groups time and time again: after a series of derailments, crashes and service interruptions on Metro-North, commuters want changes.
“Commuters deserve a safe and reliable ride,” said John Hartwell, vice president of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal is preparing to introduce a bill that would require railroads to implement certain safety measures, such as alerters, inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders and redundant signal protection.
Although Metro-North has already taken some of those steps, this legislation would hold all railroads to the same standards.
“Only federal law can provide the enhance protocols and standards that are necessary to bring new technology, better inspections, stronger oversight, and other measures that are vitally necessary,” said Blumenthal.
The legislation would also give the Federal Railroad Administration more oversight and would increase the penalties it could dole out. It would additionally require the FRA to take certain steps to deal with railroad safety.
"Safety is our top priority, and 2013 was the safest year on record for our nation’s railroads, exceeding the historic safety records achieved in 2012," a spokesperson for the FRA said in a statement Tuesday. "These results were achieved in part thanks to new steps undertaken by the Federal Railroad Administration, including issuing new rules to improve rail inspections, initiating system safety regulations for passenger railroads and launching Operation Deep Dive when it became clear there were problems at Metro North. However, the FRA continues to seek new ways to improve its safety record and we will review Mr. Blumenthal’s legislation when it is publicly available."
Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, is a strong proponent of new legislation.
“I think we have to do more than just take the railroad at its word when they say they're doing everything that they can to maintain safety. That's why we have federal oversight,” said Cameron.
The bill is still being drafted, but Blumenthal plans to introduce it in the Senate in the next few weeks.
"We haven't seen the legislation so we can't comment, but we look forward to working with Senator Blumenthal to improve rail safety," Metro-North said in a statement.