M-N: Heavy Demand May Have Affected Safety

Responding to a Federal Railway Administration (FRA) critique of the railroad’s “safety culture”, which the FRA characterized as “deficient”, Metro-North (M-N) Railroad president Joseph J. Giulietti raised the possibility that the line’s attempt to cope with mushrooming ridership may have negatively affected safety.  Quoted in reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times (March 15), Giulietti said of mushrooming demand, “That’s a fantastic problem to have . . . if you’re a well-run railroad.” He said that M-N would study whether the increasing ridership had caused it to neglect safety.  The total number of weekday trains the railroad operates increased to 690 in 2013, a 15% increase over 2004.  “At some point, this culture turned into one of, ‘How many trains can we get in there and how fast can those trains get in there?’,” Giulietti said.

M-N parent Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that more trains were not necessarily unsafe, but that an important factor is how the schedule is arranged to allow tracks to be taken out of service for maintenance.   FRA administrator Joseph Szabo also wondered whether the railroad was trying to run too many trains, and said that he was confident that M-N sister road Long Island Rail Road did not appear to have the “depth of challenges” found at Metro-North.  This may be due to LIRR ridership, which has actually declined somewhat in recent years—but it also could be that the “safety culture” on other lines, including LIRR and NJ Transit, really hasn’t been evaluated: the study by the FRA of Metro-North was an unprecedented review of a passenger railroad; the “code name” of the study, Operation Deep Dive, suggested that the FRA had conducted a more penetrating study than usual.

Read the complete story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/nyregion/metro-north-to-study-whether-surge-in-riders-affected-railroads-safety.html (paywall)