U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., will preside early next month over a hearing with federal rail regulators about boosting inspection protocols and potential heavier fines against railroads like Metro-North when deteriorating tracks or violations of safety rules are found, he said Tuesday.
The hearing will be held June 3 in Washington, D.C., and will include testimony from the Federal Railroad Administration officials about their enforcement policies, Blumenthal said.
"My goal is to hold accountable these federal agencies that are supposed to be safeguarding riders, rail workers and freight operations because they've been asleep or AWOL," Blumenthal said.
The senator, who is chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on surface transportation and merchant marine infrastructure, safety and security said the hearing was prompted by data released by the Federal Railroad Administration showing it had issued only $552,000 in fines for Metro-North over the past decade for more than 7,000 track and other defects the agency found.
Blumenthal said he believes the Federal Railroad Administration needs to make more frequent track inspections and impose higher fines to ensure passenger and worker safety. He also said he wants to learn when the FRA will hire additional track inspectors with money provided as part of a congressional appropriations bill passed earlier this year.
Late last year, Federal Railroad Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation officials told Connecticut and New York lawmakers that their current funding levels limited them to inspecting only about 1 percent of the nation's 145,000 miles of railroad track annually.
"I want to know what they are doing to intensify inspections of tracks and equipment and what any of the results have been," Blumenthal said.
-- Martin B. Cassidy