Just days after a Metro North worker was killed in Manhattan, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a report to Congress about the safety of that railroad, the second-largest commuter line in the United States. Although the timing was coincidental, the report and the subsequent death of the railroad worker on March 14 underscored the safety problems of the railroad.
The investigation was prompted by the December 2013 derailment of a Metro North train in the Bronx that killed four passengers and injured around 70 others. However, the report cited three other 2013 accidents, two derailments and an accident in Connecticut that killed another Metro North worker.
The report pulled no punches. It said that the railroad allowed safety to take second place to staying on schedule. The culture was characterized by laxity in inspections and training. The company had dangerous employee cellphone use policies. The importance of the on-time record led the railroad to tolerate a “deficient safety culture that has manifested itself in increased risk and reduced safety,” according to the report.
The report further stated that the railroad had no single department, individual or office charged with responsibility for safety advocacy.
FRA administrator Joseph Szabo said that Metro North resisted testing crews and trains on the main lines because they did not wish to delay trains carrying passengers. He said that the main lines, which carry the most trains, were the most important place to do the testing.
The head of Metro North said that efforts to address safety issue were already underway, such as allowing workers to make confidential calls about problems. The railroad has also modified speed limits and signals. The train that derailed in the Bronx was going 82 mph when it tried to enter a curve with a posted 30 mph speed limit, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The report noted that the railroad should examine its cellphone use policy, as it found employees were using phones inappropriately and compromised safety as a result.
Source: Insurance Journal, “Federal Report: N.Y. Metro-North Railroad Allowed Safety to Erode,” Mar. 18, 2014.