Feds Hit Metro-North on Safety

A Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) study of operations at Metro-North Railroad has concluded that the rail line suffers from a “deficient safety culture” that emphasized on-time performance while not putting enough priority on the safety of riders and employees.  The report, resulting from an FRA inquiry dubbed “Operation Deep Dive,” was reported in The New York Times (March 14) by Matt Flegenheimer, who also appeared on WNYC radio to discuss the findings.  Prompting the federal inquiry was a fatal derailment on December 1 in which a Poughkeepsie-New York express attempted to round a sharp curve at well over the speed limit.  A fatality March 10 on the railroad’s Park Avenue elevated trestle in Manhattan, in which a track worker was killed by a train, again brought the railroad’s practices into the public eye.  Among the practices cited by the report was a tendency for the line’s operations center to pressure workers to respond quickly to maintenance issues such as signal failures that would have an impact on on-time performance.  The workers said they did not get enough time to properly perform their work.

The report also questioned the training of track inspectors and the general state of track maintenance.  In the line’s operations center, the report said that there were no sound barriers between dispatchers, increasing the chance of distraction.  Workers perceived that on-time performance is more important than safety, and safety briefings were not well attended, the report said.  The FRA told Metro-North to analyze its train schedules to determine if there is sufficient time for inspection and maintenance of track.  This could affect the line’s on-time performance, which was the line’s worst last year since 1990 — partly due to numerous incidents, including the December 1 derailment.  Metro-North officials, after the December 1 incident, were quick to point out that the accident involved the first passenger fatalities in Metro-North’s more than 30-year history.  However, the FRA report cited several other incidents, including events that proved fatal to employees, if not passengers.  Some said that Metro-North had been lucky, but that luck had finally run out.  Said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, “Sometimes people skirt the rules and they just have good luck.  It is likely that they’ve been cutting corners.”

Read the complete story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/14/nyregion/safety-is-lacking-at-metro-north-us-review-finds-after-a-fatal-crash.html