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Metro-North Train Accidents Partly Caused by Overworked Employees

It is becoming clear that the accidents that have occurred in the last two years on the Metro-North Railroad were not isolated incidents caused by the negligence or misconduct of individual employees. Rather, there has been a systematic disregard for safety that is reflected in how workers are scheduled on the commuter rail line.

In short, the railroad scheduled workers for too many days in the periods leading up to the accidents, according to the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Thomas Prendergast told federal safety officials that traffic controllers had worked seven days straight for several weeks before the outbreak of accidents began in May, 2013. All told there have been five accidents, including one that killed four passengers in the Bronx and injured many more, and another fatal accident that killed a track worker in Connecticut.

He said that the rail control office that regulates the movement of trains is exactly the wrong place to over-schedule workers. "You overload them and they'll make a wrong decision," he told the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in March 2014. He also said that track supervisors had also worked too many days without breaks.

The Metro-North official blamed the dangerous work schedules on personnel shortages and a management pay freeze. He said that the pay freeze made it difficult to attract qualified supervisors.

The NTSB recently released hundreds of pages of testimony and documents about the investigation into the operations of Metro-North.

The problems and accidents are not only the result of overworked employees, according to Prendergast. He said that too many temporary rail joints were not replaced with permanent joints. The accident in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that injured more than 70 people was caused by broken temporary joint that was not caught by a track inspector two days before the accident. It turned out that the inspector had been inspecting a different track. Procedural changes in the inspection process were made after the accident to prevent this from happening again.

The accident in the Bronx, which was the result of excessive speed, was not the first time the engineer had exceeded the speed limit on the trip from Poughkeepsie into New York City's Grand Central Station. It turned out that during the week before the accident, the driver had exceeded the speed limit many times.

The NTSB released hundreds of pages of testimony earlier this month. A final report is due out in a few weeks, according to the story in lohud.com, the online version of the Journal News.