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Hartford - A critic of Metro-North Railroad is the first appointee to a new commuter railroad oversight board in Connecticut.
Jim Cameron was appointed to the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council by Rep. Lawrence Cafero, the Republican leader of the state House of Representatives. The Darien resident was an 18-year member of the now-defunct Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council.
"He's probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the state on commuter issues," Cafero said.
Cafero, who represents Norwalk and New Canaan, which is in commuting distance to New York City, said rail travel is a critical alternative to highway travel, particularly as roads and bridges require billions of dollars in repairs and replacement.
"Mass transit is more of what we need," he said.
The new council was enacted as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's effort to streamline boards, commissions and other panels, said Judd Everhart, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. The Commuter Council will broaden its oversight to include the New Haven-Springfield passenger line expected to be operating by 2016 and Shore Line East from New Haven to New London.
The council is to eventually include 15 members, and its first meeting will be in September, Cameron said.
Cameron has been critical of Metro-North, calling out the heavily traveled commuter rail line when operations break down. For example, he called Metro-North incompetent when passengers were stuck on a disabled train with no air conditioning in stifling heat in July 2011.
Cameron, a Democrat, said his criticism is bipartisan.
"I'm sniping at anyone who's in office," he said.
Cameron said accomplishments by the previous commuter council include a push for Metro-North to adopt a passenger bill of rights that promises accurate and timely information, a clean environment, safety and reliability, among other promises. The council also lobbied hard for new, updated rail cars that Connecticut has purchased and is putting into service and quiet cars in which passengers may not play devices or talk loudly on cellphones.
Unfinished business includes an analysis of information - when it's released - from the National Transportation Safety Board about the May 17 Metro-North derailment, he said. Commuter advocates also are demanding information about training and supervision following the death of a track foreman in West Haven on May 28.
The NTSB is investigating the incident, and Metro-North has promised to put safety improvements in place quickly.