published Monday, May 20th, 2013

Connecticut lawmakers to seek hearings on derailment

Sen. Richard Blumenthal addresses the media at a press conference near the scene of the Metro-North train collision, Saturday, May 18, 2013 in Bridgeport, Conn. Officials described a devastating scene of shattered cars and other damage where two trains packed with rush-hour commuters collided in Connecticut, saying Saturday it's fortunate that no one was killed and that there weren't even more injuries. (AP Photo/The Connecticut Post, Cathy Zuraw)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal addresses the media at a press conference near the scene of the Metro-North train collision, Saturday, May 18, 2013 in Bridgeport, Conn. Officials described a devastating scene of shattered cars and other damage where two trains packed with rush-hour commuters collided in Connecticut, saying Saturday it's fortunate that no one was killed and that there weren't even more injuries. (AP Photo/The Connecticut Post, Cathy Zuraw)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Commuters navigated a patchwork of cars, trains and buses along Connecticut’s shoreline Monday, encountering lengthy delays as authorities probed the cause of a train collision that disrupted one of the nation’s oldest and most heavily traveled railways.

Rail service from Connecticut to New York City, along with Amtrak between Boston and New York, was expected to resume by Wednesday morning rush hour, five days after the derailment and crash injured scores of passengers.

While investigators have revealed little beyond their interest in one particular rail section, Connecticut lawmakers plan hearings on the crash on the rail network servicing New York City — one they say is in need of extensive improvements.

The Metro-North crash at rush hour Friday evening injured 72 people, including one who remained in critical condition Monday. It snarled commutes for roughly 30,000 people who normally use the train.

Commuters struggled Monday to find transportation, and many reported rides to work and back home far longer than on typical days.

For Gary Maddin, the drive from his home in Milford, Conn., to the Bridgeport train station normally takes 20 minutes. On Monday, it took an hour. Then he had a shuttle bus and a train ride before he got to his destination, Grand Central Terminal in New York.

“It’s a lot,” he said. “It’s a nightmare just to get into the city today.”

Some commuters used a jury-rigged alternative to the trains: A shuttle train ran between New Haven and Bridgeport, where a bus connection to Stamford circumvented the accident scene, and finally customers boarded a train for New York. That system was to continue Tuesday.

Others drove themselves, and state officials nervously watched heavy traffic on two major arteries in southwest Connecticut, Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway.

But transportation officials were pleased that area highways were not as choked as they feared, Malloy said. He said commuters heeded his warning over the weekend about the prospect of highways becoming parking lots if all 30,000 of the usual train riders drove instead.

Backups on the Merritt Parkway, a secondary route through Connecticut, were less than on an average Monday, and I-95 was only slightly more jammed than usual because of fog, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said.

“Today went exceedingly well,” the governor said. “People listened to us. Many people stayed home or worked from home.”

Crews have worked around the clock since Saturday, and track rebuilding has progressed quickly, officials with the Metro-North railroad said.

Resumption of service is “tremendously good news,” Malloy said at a news conference later Monday. Amtrak was also expected to be running Wednesday, state officials said.

Federal investigators arrived Saturday and were expected to be on site for seven to 10 days. They are looking at a broken section of rail to see if it is connected to the derailment and collision. Officials said it wasn’t clear whether the rail was broken in the crash or earlier.

Members of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee said they have been briefed by state transportation officials over the years about the hefty investment Connecticut needs to make to fully upgrade the commuter rail line, including a couple of 100-year-old bridges that need to be replaced.

“It’s like anything else, you know,” said Rep. Tony Guerrera, co-chairman of the committee. “You can have a brand-new car and it runs great, but if the roads are awful, with potholes going up and down, what good is it?”

The last major collision involving Metro-North occurred in 1988 when a train engineer was killed in Mount Vernon, N.Y., when one train empty of passengers rear-ended another, railroad officials said.

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