- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The president of the nation’s second-biggest commuter railroad told state lawmakers on Monday that progress is being made toward improving safety and reliability following a series of high-profile accidents and service disruptions two years ago.

Appearing before the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti listed numerous reforms taken or underway to improve the system since he became president in February 2014. He said the New Haven Line of Metro-North, which serves Connecticut and New York, had an on-time rate of 92.2 percent in April and complaints were 25 percent lower than in March.

“I do know that Metro-North today is a better railroad than it was two years ago,” said Giulietti, adding how he expects the railroad will be back in a “state of good repair” in about three to four years if the Connecticut Department of Transportation receives the necessary funding to make upgrades.

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Yet Giulietti stressed that Metro-North, which is second in scope only to the Long Island Rail Road, still faces “extensive challenges” that did not develop overnight.

He said Metro-North for years focused on its employees delivering better on-time performance “while neglecting basic infrastructure investments and investments in our own employees’ training and development.” He said the “organizational culture had been compromised,” track and infrastructure repair “was lacking,” employees didn’t have “the sufficient tools and resources to do their jobs properly” and “corporate morale had hit bottom.”

Giulietti, who said he often rides the trains, said morale appears to be improving and safety has become a top priority.

“We communicated a clear message to our employees that working and operating safely is the primary focus of the railroad - not on-time performance,” he said.

There was a series of accidents and other incidents in 2013 involving Metro-North, including a derailment in Bridgeport that left more than 70 people injured when two commuter trains collided. Later that year, a train derailed in New York City, killing four passengers. Commuters also were affected by a major power failure, which disrupted service for days.

Connecticut lawmakers praised Giulietti for his efforts. Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said communication with the railroad has improved “180 degrees” since he took over.

But the legislators said they still hear complaints from their constituents about equipment failures and delays on the branch lines, standing room only during peak times on the New Haven Line and diesel locomotives breaking down.

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