Friday, March 14, 2014

FRA slams lax Metro-North safety concerns

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Stressing to the hilt its longstanding public emphasis on safety as a pinnacle industry goal, the Federal Railroad Administration slammed Metro-North Railroad Thursday, March 13, 2014 for a "deficient safety culture" that favored on-time performance to operational safety procedures.

FRA said the railroad's operations control center routinely pressured employees "to rush when responding to signal failures," and that workers had to overcome resistance in securing the track time needed to effect repairs on right-of-way maintenance and other systems needs. 

FRA's action was spurred largely by the Metro-North derailment last December at Spuyten Duyvil (the Bronx), N.Y., which killed four passengers and injured 70 others. That accident, however, appears so far not to have involved signal failure as much as excessive speed allowed by the train's engineer, though neither FRA nor the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has ruled definitively on that matter.

FRA and NTSB also can point to other incidents suffered by Metro-North in the past 15 months, including at least two trackworker deaths resulting from miscommunications and other train derailments, one by a CSX freight train (also at Spuyten Duyvil) and a second involving two Metro-North trains sideswiping each other on the railroad's New Haven Line.

Several observers, including MTA employees (including within Metro-North), have told Railway Age that employee turnover has stressed the railroad, due in part to pension payments offered after 30 years of service. A large percentage of Metro-North workers, both in the field and in management, have worked at Metro-North since it began operations in 1983, contributing to the high turnover rate at present.