Federal Report Says Metro-North Lacks Culture Of Safety

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The Dec. 1 derailment of a Metro-North train in the Bronx led to a full review of the railroad's safety practices by the Federal Railroad Administration.
The Dec. 1 derailment of a Metro-North train in the Bronx led to a full review of the railroad's safety practices by the Federal Railroad Administration. Photo Credit: MTA

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- An review of Metro-North by the Federal Railroad Administration has found that the railroad emphasizes on-time performance over safety and infrastructure.

The Operation Deep Dive investigation was initiated after the Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx that killed four people and injured more than 70 more. A total of 14 teams were assembled with more than 60 technical experts to do a comprehensive safety assessment of Metro-North, according to Federal Railway Administrator Joseph Szabo.

The assessment included looking at track signals, inspection and repair practices, communication, training, application of federal regulations and the overall safety culture at Metro-North.

"There was a clear overemphasis on on-time performance to the detriment of safety, combined with an ineffective Safety Department and poor safety culture and ineffective and inadequate training," Szabo said.

Szabo said the railroad did not set aside time to do proper testing and inspections on its main lines.

"They had failed to set aside sufficient time for high quality and appropriate track inspections because of the concern of delaying revenue trains," he said.

High employee turnover has also reduced the number of trained, experienced maintenance workers, engineers and other employees who are capable of making sure the railroad adheres to strict safety measures, Szabo said. It also found that track workers did not adhere to Metro-North's policies on cell phone use, though Szabo said that there is no idication cell phones played a role in any recent accidents.

The report calls for 21 directed actions that Metro-North must take to improve safety, as well as broader areas of improvement. Within 60 days Metro-North is required to submit plans to improve its Safety Department's effectiveness and to improve its employee training. Szabo said he will meet with CEO's from all commuter railroads to discuss the report and its findings.

The report has led elected officials and other commuter advocates to criticize Metro-North practices.

"The top priority for mass transit agencies, second to none, must be responsible operation in order to keep commuters and other travelers safe," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland). "On-time performance is no excuse to cut corners if it puts passengers at risk."

"The report confirms our worst fears, a severely lacking culture of safety at the railroad," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Every day that these FRA recommendations are not implemented is a day when safety is not as good as it could be

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that Metro-North management needs to be held accountable, and that they need to be held to strict deadlines for improvements.

"So far Metro-North has not indicated whether anyone has been shown the door, whether there have been any specific changes in management reflecting accountability," he said. "I'm calling for those changes in management, because people who are incompetent need to be shown the door."

Jim Cameron, a longtime Connecticut commuter advocate and founder of the Commuter Action Group, called the report "a scathing indictment of years of neglect and mismanagement at the railroad."

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I got news for you. If they're sacrificing safety for on-time stats they are failing miserably on both fronts.

CHLORINE GAS TRANSPORTATION SAFETY
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Metro North is consistently at least five minutes late for the morning commute, and consistently late arrival on the evening commute. According to the MTA's Mileposts flyer distributed on the trains, in January the AM on time performance of the New Haven line was 76%. By MTA's definition, 24% of its trains in the AM are more than six minutes late, and 16.3% of its trains are more than 6 minutes late in the PM. If that is emphasizing on-time performance over safety, I shudder to think how unsafe these trains are.