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Metro-North, Con Edison vow to prevent outages

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MTA file photo MTA file photo

SUSAN HAIGH | AP

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The two top officials at Metro-North Railroad and ConEdison on Monday tried to assure Connecticut's senators they're working together to prevent future power problems like the one that disrupted service along the nation's busiest commuter rail line last month, but acknowledged the cause of that outage remains unclear.

"Our companies will redouble our efforts to ensure that we are better prepared in the future," said MTA Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut, adding that no alternative transportation service can carry the New Haven Line's 132,000 daily customers.

Con Edison President Craig Ivey said his utility is still trying to determine what went wrong on Sept. 25. He said ConEdison has routinely taken transmission lines out of service without any issues. He said the procedure is typically done about 20 times during a year.

While a forensic review by Con Edison of the procedure is expected by early November, Ivey said he did not believe the age of the 36-year-old cable was to blame for the failure.

On Sept. 13, ConEdison took one of two feeder cables out of service, at the request of Metro-North, to accommodate the railroad's work at its Mount Vernon, N.Y., station. The remaining feeder cable failed on Sept. 25, cutting off power and forcing the commuter railroad to reduce service by half on its New Haven Line. Amtrak service was also affected. The disruption lasted 12 days.

Such high voltage transmission feeders are housed inside oil-filled pipes, requiring crews to freeze the insulating oil as part of the process for shutting down a line. Ivey said it appears that procedure likely contributed to the power failure.

Besides ConEdison's reviews, the New York Public Service Commission is also conducting an independent investigation.

Ivey and Permut were among those testifying Monday in Bridgeport at a congressional field hearing organized by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security. The subcommittee will accept written testimony regarding the power disruption for the next 10 days.

When asked by Blumenthal whether ConEdison plans to reimburse Metro-North for the refunds it is providing riders due to the outage, Ivey said no.

Blumenthal said he believed the New York utility had "an ethical, if not legal obligation" to reimburse Metro-North and others who suffered due to any failure of ConEdison equipment.

"I would urge you to cover that cost," the Democrat said.

U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its subcommittee on railroads, said she has requested her committee also conduct hearings on the outage, calling the disruption "an unacceptable and avoidable failure that caused significant damage, both to the economy and to people's lives."

A state Department of Economic and Community Development analysis determined Connecticut's gross state product dropped $62 million during the disruption.

Many spoke on Monday of the need to invest billions of dollars into the region's and nation's aging railroad infrastructure, despite large investments already made by Connecticut and New York. There is an estimated $3 billion backlog of projects on the New Haven Line.

"The fact is, federal investment in mass transit and Amtrak is simply insufficient to address our current state of good repair needs, let alone to build redundancy and contingency," Permut said, referring to suggestions for backup power and other needs. "This critical underfunding of our public works and infrastructure has to change."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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