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Published May 20, 2013, 03:30 PM

Connecticut lawmakers to seek hearings on derailment

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — 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.

By: JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN,Associated Press, Associated Press

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — 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.

While investigators have revealed little beyond their interest in one particular rail section, Connecticut lawmakers say they plan hearings on the crash on a rail network servicing New York City that 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.

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."

Members of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee said they planned to invite officials from the state Department of Transportation and Metro-North for hearings to help prevent future accidents. They say 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 railroad bridges that need to be replaced.

"We're dealing with an old, old system, even though you have great cars that are new. But it's like anything else, you know. You can have a brand new car and it runs great, but if the roads are awful, with pot holes going up and down, what good is it?" said Rep. Antonio "Tony" Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee.

The rail line dates back more than a century. George Gavalla, a former associate administrator for safety at the Federal Railroad Administration, said that for a line that old, the various elements would have been replaced several times over. He said federal mandates call for the rails to be inspected twice a week and it was too soon to say what could have caused the collision.

About 700 people were on board the trains Friday evening when one heading east from New York City's Grand Central Terminal to New Haven derailed just outside Bridgeport. It was hit by a train heading west from New Haven. Three people remained hospitalized Monday at Bridgeport Hospital, including the one in critical condition.

Amtrak said its service remained suspended indefinitely between New York and New Haven.

Investigators 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 if the rail was broken in the crash or earlier. NTSB investigators arrived Saturday and are expected to be on site for seven to 10 days.

On Monday, Metro-North used 120 buses to help rail commuters make their way around the accident site.

David Cox, a 52-year-old human resources manager from Waterbury, said his bus ride from Bridgeport to Stamford took 1 ½ hours, making his entire one-way trip about 3 ½ hours, an hour longer than normal.

"It's something you have to live with and you just make do," he said, after boarding the train for the final leg of his commute. "You can't get upset over it."

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said Monday's commute went remarkably well and Interstate 95, the major thoroughfare in the region, was not "carmaggedon."

"I think people heeded the governor's scary warning last night to avoid this if they could. I'm concerned about tomorrow because if people are able to work at home their boss might say, 'Well come on in today,'" he said.

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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