2 Months after Scathing Safety Report, Metro-North Announces Reforms

An investigator gathers photographic evidence Saturday, May 18, 2013, at the scene of a Metro-North trail collision that left more than 50 people injured. Credit: Patch File Photo
An investigator gathers photographic evidence Saturday, May 18, 2013, at the scene of a Metro-North trail collision that left more than 50 people injured. Credit: Patch File Photo
It has been a brutal year for Metro-North, which saw eroded commuter confidence in the face of derailments—one of them killing 4 riders—excessive and relentless delays, constant electrical problems and a sharply-criticized communication structure. 

Now, in response to the Federal Railroad Administration's "Deep Dive" into the commuter railroad's operating procedures, Metro North has announced what its officials call a "sweeping series of safety reforms." The reforms build on the safety measures Metro North committed to in early March with its 100-Day Action Plan, which can be found online here.

“Safety is the top priority for Metro-North Railroad, above even on-time performance,” said Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti.

The announcement comes a week after Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Rail Safety Enforcement Act to make train safety a national issue. 

“The tragedies that have happened along the Metro-North line, including the derailments in Bridgeport and the Bronx and the death of Robert Luden, are unacceptable," she said after reviewing the announcement about reform. "To their credit, MTA has been making a number of important reforms since then, such as moving closer to putting ‘alerters’ in every control cab car, moving toward positive train control, and an enhanced employee protection system. Now those reforms need to be fully implemented." 

The FRE released the findings of its Deep Dive investigation in March. That report, kicked off after a derailment in December that killed four people, shed light on what U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) characterized as "a severely lacking culture of safety at the railroad." 

The reforms touch virtually every aspect of Metro-North’s operations, its officials said. Top among them: Slowing trains down, installing cameras and alert systems that monitor the engineers and automated track inspections to supplement ongoing personal inspections. 

Also, officials said, the railroad is reorganizing the Safety Department, centralizing oversight of all training functions at Metro-North in the Training & Development Department, to reduce fragmentation, and establishing a work plan to address each directed actions identified in the FRA review. It is also negotiating with the unions to become part of the FRA's anonymous employee safety tip line.

Railroad officials said all the measures respond to the FRA Deep Dive, which was a 60-day investigation by 60 experts of Metro North's procedures, compliance and overall safety culture.

The report issued March 14 had recommendations on track safety, railroad operating rules, qualification and certification for engineers and conductors, workplace safety, train control systems, blue signal protection for employees, Operations Control Center, and track worker fatigue. 

Out of the 27 actions detailed in the report, railroad officials said, Metro-North has completed 14, is progressing on five, and for eight has developed a training strategy to be carried out starting immediately. The list and Metro North's response can be found on its website here. 

Safety and performance can and must be maintained together, local officials said.

“The Metro North railroad is very important to Westchester and County Executive Astorino welcomes these safety reforms that he has been calling for and that he believes can increase safety while still maintaining reliable and convenient travel for thousands of Westchester residents,” said Senior Advisor Phil Oliva.

Andrew Mitchell Blum CT May 17, 2014 at 08:50 AM
For 20 years we put "consuming less oil" and "improving commutes to work" on the top of our priority list. A highly efficient rail system would meet both of those goals. And already having the infrastructure in place made the task not a complete new development but an exercise in process improvement. And yet 20 years later we are worse off. Commutes are worse. Gasoline prices have risen faster than the overall COLA. People who used to take the train are back in their cars since that mode is unreliable (plus seats are hard to find and good luck finding a seat not adjacent to some "big shot" blabbering on his bluetooth) and the highways are more congested than ever. This was a lay-up and they missed the bucket - big time. Andrew Mitchell Blum, Fairfield, CT


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