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Blumenthal and Murphy Respond to My Letter: Metro-North Train Crossing Traffic Warning Signs

November 2013 file photo of Greenwood Avenue railroad crossing, by Paula Antolini
November 2013 file photo of Greenwood Avenue railroad crossing, by Paula Antolini
Report by Paula Antolini
(12th UPDATE in Metro-North Series)

On March 4, 2014 I wrote to many officials, including U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, concerning a road safety issue in Bethel CT.  This pertained to the approach to the Metro-North train crossing on Bethel's main street, Greenwood Avenue, and actually all crossings on the north end of the Danbury rail line where train gates are malfunctioning (or still not working properly). 

I mentioned that the present failed MTA/Metro-North railroad system, specifically the malfunctioning train gates, is now causing a traffic problem on the roads at these crossings on the Danbury railroad line north end.

I included links to all the Patch articles I've written about this subject. This also included numerous photos and videos, a history of resident complaints and police reports about the Greenwood Avenue crossing, a history of Metro-North accidents in our area, present resident comments, and responses from local officials on this same subject, since November 2013. This is when I first came upon police and railroad workers at a malfunctioning train gate there, at 10 p.m. on November 12, 2013 (see photo on this page).

I mentioned that residents had formed a petition with 262 names on it (now has 270) whose aim is to try and get traffic warning signs on Greenwood Avenue to warn motorists of approaching trains.  I stressed the point that that THIS IS A DIFFERENT ISSUE NO ONE HAS ADDRESSED, railroad problems are now causing a TRAFFIC problem and there are NO traffic warning signs to alert motorists a train is approaching (and they find themselves in front of the approaching train).

I asked, "I'd appreciate your help in this matter, or at least a statement from you as to what you can do, or what you think, about the traffic warning signs and the present dangerous safety issue on Greenwood Avenue and surrounding towns."

See their replies below.

*****

Received from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dear Ms. Antolini,
 
Thank you for your message regarding the Metro North Railroad. I appreciate hearing from you.
 
Since May of 2013, Metro North has been plagued with a series of incidents that have revealed the railroad’s negligence in prioritizing the safety and concerns of its commuters. The accidents, including derailments, collisions, and power outages, resulted in unnecessary and preventable injuries and tragic deaths. Commuters should not have to question whether or not their train will arrive at their destination safely. Beyond the most noticeable and horrific events of the past year, the traveling public has also had to contend with consistently late trains, poor customer service, and increasingly crowded train cars.
 
I am fully committed to holding Metro North accountable for its shortcomings and failures. The railroad has unacceptably shirked its responsibility to provide safe and reliable service, putting lives at risk and destroying the public’s trust. As Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, I will not rest until Metro North restores commuter faith and proves itself to be a safe and trustworthy railroad. I held several hearings to investigate the root causes of Metro North’s failures, and I successfully fought for additional funding within the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Safety and Operations b udget to increase the number of inspections of commuter railroads. I have also called on the FRA to finalize delayed rail safety rules, and I am pleased that the agency has taken action on a number of them, including the requirement of inward and outward facing cameras on all trains.
 
On March 14, 2014, the FRA released Operation Deep Dive, a comprehensive review of Metro North’s safety standards, practices, and operations. This report lays the groundwork for the long road ahead to rebuilding commuter satisfaction and a safe environment on the railroad. Although I am encouraged by the railroad’s new leadership and restructuring of its safety office, Metro North must make the improvements proposed by the FRA and set hard deadlines to meet those goals. I will continue to exercise rigorous oversight to ensure Metro North’s adherence to greater safety standards and that federal regulators are upholding their duty to enforce compliance.
 
Thank you again for your message. Please feel free to contact me in the future with any additional questions or concerns.
 

Sincerely,

Richard Blumenthal
United States Senate

*****

Received from U.S. Senator Chris Murphy on Monday, April 14, 2014

Thank you for contacting me about the recent series of problems with MetroNorth Railroad. I welcome this opportunity to discuss this issue with you.

There is no question that MetroNorth service has caused months of headaches and inconvenience for the people of Connecticut. From tragic derailments to a massive power outage, MetroNorth is jeopardizing its ability to remain a reliable commuter rail service that thousands of Connecticut residents depend on.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have been independently investigating MetroNorth. The NTSB investigation into the May 2013 Bridgeport derailment, and the MetroNorth worker fatality in West Haven 11 days later, shed light on a deeply-flawed safety culture at the agency. The FRA recently completed their investigation into the railroad, also highlighting the organization's poor safety culture and directing MetroNorth to take several immediate steps. The two investigations look closely at the safety culture problem and seek to provide recommendations on how MetroNorth can move forward and provide safe, reliable service to its customers.

In the meantime, there are several interim steps that we know MetroNorth can take to make the New Haven Line (and its other routes) safer and more reliable. Installing "alerter" systems on MetroNorth trains will help to rouse inattentive engineers and activate the brakes if he or she doesn't respond in time. Inward and outward-facing cameras on MetroNorth trains could potentially help deter distracted train operators, and provide a fuller safety record in the event of an incident. By employing a "shunting" system, MetroNorth can prevent worker accidents and deaths while tracks maintenance is being performed.

Please know that I am continuing to meet with MetroNorth employees and leadership to better understand what they are doing to proactively improve service to the people of Connecticut. While there is no single solution to these grave problems, I believe that with MetroNorth, its customers, and federal agencies working together, we can fix our commuter rail. I'm glad you're part of the process, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

Thank you again for contacting me about this matter.  I appreciate hearing from you and assure you that I will always do my best to represent the views of my constituents in the Senate.  In the future, please do not hesitate to call me in my Connecticut office at (860) 549-8463 or my Washington office at (202) 224-4041.

Every Best Wish,

Christopher S. Murphy
United States Senator

*****

Please note: Two individuals got back to me within hours of my writing to them on March 4, 2014, and those are CT State Representative David Scribner and a legislative aid (Alex Genovesi) to U.S. Senator Toni Boucher.

See their responses in my 8th UPDATE story here:
http://bethel.patch.com/groups/paula-antolinis-blog/p/senator-boucher-and-representative-scribner-re...


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul Improta April 22, 2014 at 08:47 PM
Lip service. Good luck with that.
Liu Wei April 23, 2014 at 10:51 AM
Very good responses. Perhaps Mr Improta would outline his solutions for us.
Captain Obvious April 23, 2014 at 10:59 AM
Paul is absolutely correct. These are boiler plate letters that a low level staffer crafted and had auto signed. Notice they address none of the specifics of Ms. Antolini letter? These two men have been involved in CT politics for well over a decade each, true leaders would have addressed this before it got to this point.
Paula Antolini April 23, 2014 at 12:29 PM
Thanks for the "luck" Paul, but we should not need "luck" to address and remedy safety issues in our community. The point of this article is to show the responses from the two senators, and allow you to make your own conclusions. Another point is to spread awareness about this safety issue and inspire residents to actively participate in creating positive change in the community regarding ALL safety issues. This means contacting those who can remedy the situation and not stopping there. If you do nothing, then you have no right to complain about any of it, and live with the safety hazards consequences. Unfortunately people wait until after a disaster happens to act on safety measures. Sad. In this case Improta and Wiggin are correct, no mention was made of the main issue of the traffic warning signs to alert about a train approach and malfunctioning gates etc.. Only one individual (Boucher) understood the problem and wrote back to the DOT ask for a clarification on the original answer she had received from the DOT, her response to me read in part "We emailed the DOT to ask what the status of that request is. So far they have responded with general information about safety on the Danbury line, and the stop and warn policy. Our office has written back to clarify that we are looking for information specifically about the request to install temporary signage on Greenwood Avenue." Eventually the DOT responded and said they would not supply the signs: http://bethel.patch.com/groups/paula-antolinis-blog/p/dot-to-bethel-no-traffic-warning-signs-needed-at-train-crossings-9th-update

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