Federal report: Metro-North values performance over safety

The Federal Railroad Administration issued a report Friday, March 14, that says Metro-North places too much emphasis on on-time performance, has an ineffective safety department and poor safety culture, and an ineffective training program.

The report is based on an investigation called Operation Deep Dive, undertaken after several high-profile accidents in 2013 including a May 17 collision of two trains in Bridgeport that injured more than 50 people, and a fatal derailment Dec. 1 in New York City in which four passengers were killed and more than 70 injured.

The report specified eight areas of “safety-critical concerns:”

• Track safety standards;

• Railroad operating rules;

• Qualifications and certification of locomotive engineers and conductors;

• Railroad workplace safety;

• Train control systems;

• Worker protection;

• Operations control center;

• Employee fatigue.

The report also directs Metro-North’s senior leadership to “prioritize safety above all else, and communicate and implement that priority throughout Metro-North.

The railroad administration also requires Metro-North to submit, within 60 days, a plan to improve its safety department’s mission and effectiveness. The department must provide effective leadership and oversight on safety issues and communicate effectively throughout the Metro-North system. Programs ensuring appropriate in-person monitoring of field activities and personnel must be put in place.

Within 60 days, Metro-North must also submit to the railroad administration a plan to improve its training program.

In its conclusion the report said, “Metro-North must never compromise safety in the interest of the reliability of its train schedule or the efficiency of its railroad operations. The findings of Operation Deep Dive demonstrate that Metro-North has emphasized on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and adequate maintenance of its infrastructure. This led to a deficient safety culture that has manifested itself in increased risk and reduced safety on Metro-North. This is a severe assessment, and it is intended as an urgent call to action to Metro-North’s leadership as they work to develop a comprehensive plan to turn Metro-North into a model of safe railroad operations.

The railroad administration said it “is encouraged by the many good employees who met with our Deep Dive teams and were interviewed for this report. Their dedication and desire to turn Metro-North into a safe, professional railroad serving the citizens of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will provide Metro-North’s new leadership with a solid foundation upon which to make immediate improvements and effect long-term cultural change.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th), a Cos Cob resident, was among several to comment on the report upon its release.

“This report confirms that the safety and reliability problems at Metro North stem from a culture that allowed poor performance and lax enforcement of safety procedures,” Mr. Himes said. “There is no reason we should accept anything less than safe AND efficient service. I urge Metro North to swiftly address the problems outlined in the report and will closely monitor the railroad’s progress.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy also spoke about the report on Friday, saying that in reinforced the serious concerns” that he has raised with Metro North over the past year.

“Based on the commitments I have received from the Metropolitan Transportation Agency and Metro-North, I expect that the key recommendations of this report will be the top priorities addressed in the 100-Day Plan for the railroad,” Mr. Malloy said. “I want that report in short order, so that riders will have deadlines and benchmarks that will hold the railroad accountable. 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.  That’s what the customers and taxpayers from Connecticut deserve.”

Post columnist Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group founded in the aftermath of Metro North’s repeated issues, called the report a “scathing indictment” and claimed it “confirms our worst suspicions about Metro North.”

“It is one thing to solve the safety and maintenance issues by finding more funding, and that must be done. But a far greater challenge is changing the operational ‘culture’ at Metro-North to instill safety as job one and hold every employee accountable,” Mr. Cameron said. “The FRA is to be commended for this report, the first of its type and the first time any U.S. railroad has been so intensely studied. Now it’s Metro-North’s job to fix what’s wrong and the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s job to be sure they get it right.”

 

Post editor Ken Borsuk contributed to this story.

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