Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NTSB to Metro-North: Add track safety measures

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The National Transportation Safety Board is urging Metro-North Railroad to provide more protection to track workers who depend on dispatchers for signal inspection, following the death of track worker May 28 in West Haven, Conn., on Metro-North's New Haven Line.

The incident followed a more publicized accident May 17 near Bridgeport, Conn., also on Metro-North's New Haven Line, which NTSB continues to investigate. Preliminary results suggest a track flaw caused the derailment of an eastbound train, which then was sideswept by a westbound train. The derailment and subsequent crash hospitalized 75 passengers and crew. NTSB has said it likely won't report a final "probable cause" until next year.

NTSB investigators said rail inspection reports showed that maintenance work had been done in the area of the derailment near Bridgeport in April. The records revealed that a joint bar, used to join two sections of rail together, was cracked and that it was repaired by Metro-North personnel. After the derailment and crash, sections of rail were removed and shipped to the NTSB materials laboratory in Washington for further examination. FRA officials also noted the area in question had been inspected two days before the accident and found to be in a good condition.

But. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said a Senate committee hearing Wednesday on rail safety will focus on both events. Blumenthal said the Bridgeport crash "has rightly focused attention on the safety of our rail systems and how we plan for long-term investments and upgrades in our rail infrastructure. This hearing is an opportunity to hear from a diverse group of stakeholders and to begin to develop a consensus on a coordinated, consistent plan for future investments and improvements."

Metro-North President Howard Permut says the railroad will increase and improve its track inspection work. "Operating a safe railroad is the first priority of all the employees at Metro-North Railroad," Permut wrote in a letter. A Metro-North spokeswoman adds that the railroad has tightened its verbal procedures and is working on a technological backup to improve safety.