Blumenthal to seek better rail safety, reliability

Norwich — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday he is introducing legislation that will address a rash of train derailments and crashes around the country, including two Metro-North commuter accidents last year.

Blumenthal called some of the nation’s train tracks “decrepit” and said many of them could use significant upgrades. The legislation he is introducing would be geared toward ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation’s railroads by spending more money on inspections and improved standards.

“That’s an opportunity as well as an obligation,” Blumenthal, D-Conn., said during a breakfast meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut held at the Holiday Inn Norwich and attended by about 100 businesspeople. “That kind of investment is a job creator.”

Blumenthal’s legislation follows Metro-North crashes last year in May and December that left four dead and more than 140 injured. Last spring, a commuter train derailed in Bridgeport, and later in the year two trains collided in the Bronx, N.Y., leading to the first passenger deaths in Metro-North’s three-decade history.

Speaking later in the day in West Haven, Blumenthal called for the nation’s railroads to make upgrades that would adopt “life-saving technology,” according to an Associated Press report. Among his ideas is to mandate the installation of so-called “alerters,” alarms meant to wake sleepy engineers and, in the event of no response, automatically slow the train.

Blumenthal’s proposed legislation also would develop a national system for reporting safety problems, improve federal oversight and increase penalties for safety violations.

At his appearance in Norwich, Blumenthal said he also supports more investment in railroad infrastructure, including the New England Central Railroad project, for which the state is seeking an $8.3 million federal grant. The project would replace 19 miles of older rail in eastern Connecticut with newer tracks designed to withstand today’s heavier loads.

He called the project “critical to the entire state of Connecticut,” linking businesses in the region to the port of New London but also providing a tie to colleges and universities along the route as well as cultural attractions.

“This project is really such a potentially remarkable boost to our economy and our cultural life,” he said.

In other remarks, Blumenthal:

n said he supports a plan that would enable people with college debt to refinance at lower rates. The plan, which he proposed with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would allow people paying interest rates in the 8 to 11 percent range to lower their cost to the current rate of less than 4 percent.

n applauded Electric Boat’s decision last month to rescind layoff notices to a number of carpenters, painters, outside machinists and shipfitters, saying it indicates progress related to the two-subs-a-year schedule that Congress has implemented. EB said that in June, it recalled 47 employees from layoffs, canceled layoff notices for 41 employees and delayed the layoff of 68 employees. “Employees who received an extension are now scheduled to exit the business in August,” EB spokesman Robert Hamilton said in an email.

n said he hoped Robert McDonald, the new Department of Veterans Affairs secretary chosen by President Obama, holds accountable people responsible for a scandal involving delayed health care services at VA hospitals and said he supports a continuing Department of Justice investigation into the situation. He also said he helped write legislation that would boost VA funding by $500 million.

l.howard@theday.com

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