Conn. senators call for railroad trust fund

Connecticut senators call for national railroad trust fund in wake of Metro-North accident

Associated Press

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) -- A trust fund should be established to ensure the upkeep and safety of the nation's rail system, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday, labeling the recent derailment in Connecticut and other accidents a call to action.

Blumenthal, fellow U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch appeared at news conference held in response to the May 17 collision near the city that injured more than 70 people on two commuter trains.

Blumenthal said the Connecticut crash, a derailment near Baltimore on Tuesday and other accidents point out the need for a fund, which he said would be similar to those already in place for highway construction and the dredging of ports.

"Lack of public trust and confidence in safety and reliability threaten to undermine the entire rail system," Blumenthal said.

He added that commuters can rely on the safety of the rail line if officials make continued investments he called critical.

"The country has an obligation to make sure people and freight are transported safely and reliably every day without the kind of collision we saw here in Bridgeport," Blumenthal said. "The country needs to keep faith with the people who ride the rails and make sure the investment is there for safety and reliability."

Murphy said the rail line has the busiest stretch of track in the country, along with some of the oldest infrastructure.

"That is a toxic mixture," he said. "When you have tens of thousands of people riding these rails and you have investments that are decades overdue it not only slows down this rail but can cause safety problems."

But Murphy called the rail line one of the safest in the country, saying Metro-North and Amtrak have above-average safety records.

The Northeast rail corridor needs $50 billion in investments over the next 20 years just to keep the rail line in a state of good repair, Murphy said. He also endorsed a rail trust fund and said Amtrak profits in the Northeast should be invested in the region rather than spread across the country.

Murphy, a Democrat like Blumenthal, acknowledged that persuading Republicans to support the spending will be a challenge.

The National Transportation Safety Board has ruled out foul play in the Connecticut accident, which occurred on the New Haven line of Metro-North, a rail service used by tens of thousands of commuters north of New York City.

The NTSB has said that a cracked joint bar, used to hold two sections of rail together, had been repaired last month and that rail sections in the area of the derailment have been shipped to Washington for further examination.

Adam Lisberg, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates Metro-North, said the joint bar was replaced. Metro-North is conducting an inspection and inventory of all the joint bars on its main tracks, according to the NTSB, which is continuing to investigate the derailment.

Authorities, including the NTSB, also are looking into a fatal accident on the same line Tuesday, when a Metro-North foreman was struck and killed by a train at a station under construction in West Haven, officials said.

"The safety of our customers and our employees is the highest priority for Metro-North Railroad," the railroad said in a statement Wednesday.

"We are in the midst of a thorough investigation of two very serious but unrelated incidents, the derailment in Bridgeport and the death of a worker in West Haven. Metro-North is fully cooperating with the independent agencies involved in the investigations now under way to determine of the causes so as to prevent future accidents."

Blumenthal said he planned to press the NTSB to accelerate its investigation into the cause of the derailment so officials can determine where to focus the investments.

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, welcomed the call for more federal investment, saying it was overdue. He noted that the rail line has been receiving a new fleet of train cars in recent years but there are still other needs such as improved signaling and more train station parking.

"It's a national resource. It's not just a local railroad," Cameron said. "The cars are great but the cars are no better than the roadbed they ride on. They are no safer than the signal system that they depend on. We've got to make sure, and these accidents I think demonstrate, that we've got to invest in that infrastructure as well."

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