Metro-North needs to change, says fed report
By Kevin E. Foley
The Metro-North system came under sharp criticism last week by federal elected officials, including Rep. Sean Maloney (D-Cold Spring), as the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released its Operation Deep Dive report after an extensive review of the commuter line’s operations.
The FRA study was prompted by the December 2013 Sunday morning accident that took the lives of four people and injured 70 more after a southbound train entered a sharp curve at excessive speed just north of the New York City line. Philipstown’s James Lovell was among those killed.
On a media conference call on Friday, March 14, Joseph Szabo, administrator of the FRA, summed up the report’s conclusions: “The Metro-North railroad is operated with a clear emphasis on on-time performance to the detriment of safety, suffers from inadequate safety training for line workers and in general has a poor safety culture from top management down the line.”
Szabo said his agency had deployed 60 technical experts to study all aspects of Metro-North operations over a two-month period. Szabo said FRA had made 21 directed actions to Metro-North that they will be required to carry out. He further said the FRA would hold monthly accountability sessions with Metro-North to evaluate how the actions are carried out.
Asked about the current status of Metro-North, Szabo said the railroad had become “clearly a safer railroad over the last three months.”
All the elected officials, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), made critical comments about the management of Metro-North and the lack of safety training and procedures. They all called on Congress to appropriate President Obama’s request for $825 million dollars to fund the introduction of a positive train control system (PTC) as critical in the prevention of future accidents, on Metro-North.
Maloney recalls Lovell
Maloney agreed with the statements of his colleagues and also added a tone of personal urgency to the discussion when he recalled his visit to the Dec. 1 accident site.
“I just want to refocus everyone on what this (the accident) was like,” said Maloney. He described being escorted by a National Transportation Safety Board official down to where bodies were found in the wreckage. He said there were little flags dotting the area.
“And you know what, a couple of days later we were at the funeral of Jim Lovell, whose kids go to school with mine in Cold Spring, and you can’t look into the eyes of the Lovell kids and not feel a responsibility to do better. And I want to echo what Sen. Schumer said, that the report confirms our worst fears. But for the Lovell family their worst fears have already been realized. And nothing is going to bring back Jim Lovell, the husband and father who walked out the door on his way to work and never came home.
“We have to move forward in a way that guarantees this doesn’t happen again. And I want to tell you that there are real solutions here, and what I am concerned about is that we must not substitute recrimination for progress. There is plenty of blame to go around. I applaud the Deep Dive review for identifying all the things that should be going on that are not going on,” said Maloney.
Maloney went on to extoll the virtues of PTC and the necessity of funding its installation on Metro-North and on commuter lines around the country. “We know PTC would have prevented this accident. We need legislation requiring and funding this.
“Safe enough is not good enough,” Maloney concluded.
In a statement in response to the report, Metro-North’s new president, Joseph Guiletti, said: “Safety will be this railroad’s top priority. I will not allow any Metro-North trains to operate unless it is safe for them to run. We will not run this railroad any other way.”
Guiletti said several reforms were already in the works, including installing a PTC system. Among others were:
• “Improve how we train our employees and how we monitor their performance.
• “Implement a confidential close-call reporting system so employees can report safety issues without fear of reprisal.
• “Improve how we inspect our tracks and equipment, and how we perform maintenance on the right of way.
• “Request board approval this month to move forward on installing cameras in all our trains, as the NTSB recently recommended.
• “Buy new equipment, hire the necessary staff, change our management structure and reach out to our partners in labor — all to make this railroad as safe as possible.”