Friday, December 06, 2013

FRA issues emergency order to Metro-North

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
In the wake of the Dec. 1, 2013 wreck of an MTA Metro-North Railroad train that was apparently caused by an overspeed condition and that resulted in four deaths and 63 injuries, the Federal Railroad Administration on Friday, Dec. 6 issued an Emergency Order (EO 29) to Metro-North “to take specific, immediate steps to ensure its train crews do not exceed speed limitations.”

EO-29 requires Metro-North to modify its existing signal system “to ensure speed limits are obeyed” and “to provide two qualified railroad employees to operate trains where major speed restrictions are in place until the signal system is updated.”

Metro-North, by Dec. 10, 2013, must provide FRA with a list of main line locations where there is a reduction of more than 20 mph in the maximum authorized passenger train speed. Further, Metro-North is ordered “to identify appropriate modifications to its existing automatic train control system or other signal systems to enable adequate advance warning of and adherence to such speed restrictions.” Such modifications, FRA said, “will help prevent another [overspeed] event if a locomotive engineer fails to take actions to appropriately slow or stop a passenger train.”

In the meantime, Metro-North is ordered to operate trains with two qualified train crew members in the controlling locomotive cab or cab car control compartment at the locations where speed limits change by 20 mph or more “until the signal work at these locations is complete.” Additionally, the railroad must submit to the FRA for approval an Action Plan that ensures the safety of its operations for passengers and employees by Dec. 31. The plan must contain target dates and milestones for implementing necessary signal system modifications.

FRA said EO 29 “is a mandatory directive to the railroad, and failure to comply with its requirements will result in enforcement actions against the railroad or individuals who violate it.” EO 29 follows a letter issued by FRA earlier this week calling on Metro-North to launch a “safety stand-down” with all employees and “to fully implement the confidential close call reporting system, which has helped improve rail safety on other lines.”

FRA added that it had already increased its oversight and enforcement of Metro-North’s rail lines following the May 2013 crash on the New Haven Line, including additional inspections of its lines and audits of Metro-North’s operations and compliance with federal regulations. The agency is also planning to conduct an extensive investigation of Metro-North’s safety compliance with all regulated railroad safety disciplines.

“Last year was the safest on record for our nation’s rail industry,” said FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “Even with a 43% decline in train accidents nationwide over the past decade, we must remain steadfast and vigilant to ensure passengers and employees are safe. The public deserves better and our mission is to drive continuous safety improvement.”