Train crash highlights need for improvements, prompts Senate railroad safety hearing

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by Eric Pearson

Approximately 76 people were injured—some critically—when two Metro-North passenger trains, heading in opposite directions, collided in Bridgeport, Connecticut in May. The accident occurred when a train heading from New York City to New Haven derailed and struck the other train.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators have been focusing on a broken rail as a possible cause. Two days prior to the collision, Metro-North track inspectors checking the New Haven Line had described weak ballast, erosion, problems with ties, unstable rails and loose embankments on the line where the trains crashed.

According to Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who recently presiding over a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee looking into railroad safety issues, the inspectors’ report “shows many defects on that stretch, any one of which could have caused a derailment.’’ One of the defects in the inspectors’ report was: “Track 4, Catenary 734 insulated joint, hanging ties, pumping under load,” referring to vertical movement of the track when a train passed over it. This was at the site of the derailment on May 17.

James P. Redeker, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, told the Senate hearing that investment levels in the Northeast Corridor — the rail system between Washington and Boston — “fall far short of the levels needed to address repair backlogs and meet future needs.’’ The repair backlog in Connecticut that needs to be addressed in the near term includes catenary replacement, four major moveable bridges between Greenwich and New Haven, as well as numerous fixed bridges on the line, and replacing the signal system, according to Redeker.

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