By Joseph Giulietti
The past year has been a challenging one for Metro-North Railroad — for its 270,000 daily customers, for its 6,000 employees, for the taxpayers in New York and Connecticut who support its operations and for the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on a safe, efficient and well-run railroad to get to work, school and home.
As the new president of Metro-North, I have a clear message for all of them: Safety must come first at Metro-North, and it will come first.
Not train speed. Not on-time performance. Not adding new service. Safety.
For years, Metro-North was called the best commuter railroad in the country. Ridership grew every year — not just into Manhattan on weekday mornings, but from Manhattan and the Bronx to employment hubs in the suburbs and between suburban destinations all day long, seven days a week. Our customers could rely on us, and on some mornings, every single train arrived on time.
But these successes masked deep-seated problems. As a new Federal Railroad Administration report makes clear, Metro-North’s focus on on-time performance came ahead of everything else — even safety.
I spent 15 years at Metro-North at the start of my career, and returned to run the railroad a little more than a month ago. I found what the FRA found — the culture at Metro-North shifted over the years. Our challenge is to restore a culture of safety.
There is good news: Metro-North is staffed by thousands of dedicated employees who are pained by the troubles of the last year, who work hard in difficult conditions, and who want to restore the railroad to greatness.
Every problem I’ve seen at Metro-North can be fixed — and will be. The Governors of Connecticut and New York and elected officials from both states have high expectations, but all have offered their unwavering support.
We are rigorously analyzing every inch of our track and acquiring sophisticated new equipment to inspect it. We are improving how we work on the right of way, how we protect against accidents, how we train our employees and how we protect them on the job.
We are changing our management structure, hiring more staff, reaching out to our partners in labor, and implementing a system so employees can report safety issues without fear of reprisal.
We have embarked on a 100-day plan to put Metro-North on the right path, and we will update the FRA as we address problems. You can read more at mta.info about our commitment to improve the railroad. We welcome the scrutiny that will help us once again be known as the best commuter railroad in the nation.
But we don’t want only to tell you what we’re doing — we want to listen, too. My senior staff will join me in Grand Central Terminal during the evening rush to hear from our customers, listen to their concerns and answer their questions. In the weeks to come, we’ll do the same five more times at Metro-North stations in New York and Connecticut. It’s part of our commitment to communicate with riders better.
We have plenty of work ahead of us, but I am confident Metro-North will earn back its reputation as a safe and reliable railroad for everyone it serves. Let us know how we’re doing toward achieving that goal.
Joseph Giulietti is president of MTA Metro-North Railroad.