HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The two top officials at Metro-North Railroad and Con Edison 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 Con Edison has routinely taken transmission lines out of service without any issues and that the procedure is typically done about 20 times 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, Con Edison 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 by the 12-day disruption.
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 Con Edison'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.
When asked by Blumenthal whether Con Edison plans to reimburse Metro-North for the refunds it is providing riders, Ivey said no, because the utility did not believe its "customers should bear the risk" if another customer decided to take one of the two feeder cables out of service.
After learning of Ivey's comments, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sent a letter to Thomas Prendergast, chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, requesting the MTA take legal action against Con Edison to recover losses from the outage.
"Con Edison should accept responsibility for the costs imposed on commuters and on Connecticut taxpayers as result of this recent failure," Malloy wrote.
Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for the MTA, said Metro-North is still tallying all of its costs from the disruption, ranging from additional personnel to bus rentals. She said customers have through March 31 to request credits for their monthly and weekly tickets.
"Believe me, we are keeping track," she said of the costs. "We're also keeping open all of our legal options."
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 Con Edison equipment.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., said she has requested a House committee 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 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.
Permut said federal investment in mass transit is insufficient to address needed repairs, along with backup power and other needs.