GREENWICH, Conn. -- Commuter advocate Jim Cameron of Darien is blunt in how he views Metro-North, even to the point of castigating the railroad in the title of a speech he gave to the Retired Men's Association of Greenwich.
"Metro North: From First to Worst" is what he called the talk last week. And Cameron backed it up by reciting Metro-North's "dismal record" in safety, with multiple accidents in the past few years, including the deaths of passengers and workers.
The most recent tragedy was the death of five passengers and the driver of a car nearly three weeks ago in Valhalla, N.Y., after a collision on the tracks at a grade crossing. A number of major derailments -- including one with four fatalities in Westchester County, N.Y., and another in Bridgeport that injured dozens of passengers -- have occurred in the past two years.
"It turns out that Metro-North was not operating in a safe fashion, and we didn't realize it," said Cameron, who founded his own coalition -- dubbed the Commuter Action Group -- two years ago.
Due to Metro-North's poor record, the Federal Railroad Administration took what Cameron termed "a deep dive" into the railroad's practices.
The 2014 report from the FRA found that Metro-North emphasized on-time performance, which led to reduced safety.
Cameron said unsafe and unreliable train service also hurts the regional and local economy.
"Unreliable train service discourages people from living in your town," Cameron said. If people don't move in, it affects property values and reduces tax revenue, he said.
Cameron has been vocal about the need for improved rail service and said that sometimes leads to bruised political feelings, especially when he was a member and chairman of the official Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. But Cameron said party politics played no role in his criticism.
"I have been completely nonpartisan of whoever was in office," Cameron said.
When Republican governors took the hits, Democrats agreed with him, Cameron said. That reversed when Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office, he said.
Cameron said a senior Democrat legislator - whom he did not name - ordered him to tone down his comments about Malloy.
He said the legislator issued a warning: "Stop complaining about the governor or we will write your little commuter council out of existence."
And that's what happened, Cameron said. The council was replaced by a newer and less influential one, Cameron said.
He was reappointed to his post but decided to leave and create the his own committee, which he named the Commuter Action Group.
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