The Metro-North Railroad took a hard hit after a Federal Railroad Administration report today said the commuter rail company has emphasized on-time performance over the safety of its riders and workers.
Metro-North president Joseph Giulietti admitted at a press conference today that safety has not been the top priority given the series of rail-related accidents over the past year.
“I have a clear message for our customers and our employees: Safety must come first at Metro-North,” Giulietti said. “I will not allow any Metro-North trains to run unless I’m confident that they will run safely.”
The report, called “Operation Deep Dive,” involved the collaborative work of 60 experts in railroad operations and safety who observed the daily activities of Metro-North for 60 days.
The evaluation examined the following:
● track, signal and rolling stock maintenance, inspection and repair practices
● protections for employees working on rail infrastructure, locomotives and rail cars
● communication between mechanical and transportation departments at maintenance facilities
● operations control center procedures and rail traffic controller training
● compliance with federal hours-of-service regulations
● employees’ understanding and execution of all applicable federal regulations
● locomotive engineer oversight
● engineer and conductor certifications
● operating crew medical requirements
The report emphasized a string of tragedies this past year following the recent death of a track worker Monday when a Poughkeepsie-bound train going through Harlem hit him. The report cited several incidents that reflect Metro-North’s “deficient safety culture.”
In May 2013, a track foreman was struck and killed in West Haven, Conn. A New Haven line train derailed last year in Bridgeport, and a Hudson Line train jumped a track as it was reportedly speeding, killing four and leaving 100 others injured in the Bronx.
Going forward, Giulietti said the Metro-North will continue working with the FRA and National Transportation Safety Board to ensure safety awareness is heightened and incorporate the findings of a study from the MTA’s Blue Ribbon Panel, which has yet to be released.
“We are asking our board for permission to move forward on installing cameras in all our trains, as the NTSB has recommended,” Giulietti said. “And we will install Positive Train Control – the most modern type of train protection – as quickly as possible.”
A 100-day plan, which Giulietti proposed this month after assuming office in February, will address specific issues the FRA raised. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said he expects the FRA’s recommendations to be quickly implemented as top priorities on the 100-day plan.
“I want that report in short order, so that riders will have deadlines and benchmarks that will hold the railroad accountable,” Malloy said in a press release. “I expect, and indeed senior management has assured me, that Metro-North will focus on restoration of the highest quality, safe service in the industry and restore the New Haven to a ‘best-in-class’ railroad.”
Jim Cameron, founder of Commuter Action Group, a web forum where commuters can share their qualms about the Metro-North, said the findings in the FRA reports were “even worse than we thought.”
“It’s one thing to solve the safety and maintenance issues by finding more funding, and that must be done,” Cameron said. “But a far greater challenge is changing the operational ‘culture’ at Metro-North to instill safety as job one and hold every employee accountable.”
Metro-North’s next step is to submit a plan addressing all of the FRA’s recommendations by May 17.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article stated that the Deep Dive report mentioned the death of a track worker who was struck by a Poughkeepsie-bound train going through Harlem on Monday, March 10. The report does not mention this recent incident.