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Metro-North Train Accident, One Year Later

On the one-year anniversary of the Metro-North train crash, has anything changed to convince passengers that they are safe when taking trains to New York City from upstate New York and Connecticut?  On December 1, 2013, a train from Poughkeepsie bound for Grand Central station derailed at Spuyten Dyvil in the Bronx, killing four people and injuring more than 60.

The engineer was found to have fallen asleep and the train hit a sharp curve at 82  mph. He was later diagnosed with sleep apnea made worse by a recent shift change.  Almost all the cars in the seven-car train jumped the tracks, several landing very close the edge of the water.

The investigation that followed the accident revealed that Metro-North had a culture that valued on-time performance above safety.  The railroad was ordered to make significant changes in its operations, including screening drivers and other staff for sleep apnea.

Many of the injured have not been on the train since the accident, according to a story in the Poughkeepsie Journal. They still suffer pain from their injuries and many have endured multiple surgeries.  Several can no longer work. Dozens of lawsuits, including wrongful death claims, have been filed against the railroad.  Some observers have reported that Metro-North seems eager to settle cases to avoid going to trial.

In addition to screening employees for sleep apnea, the railroad has implemented the following safety measures since the accident:

  • New speed limits and speed signs
  • Call system that allows employees to anonymously report safety issues
  • Cameras to monitor the engineers, train exteriors and passenger areas
  • Installation of “positive train control”, a crash avoidance system that will automatically slow or stop a train if a driver fails to follow signs

Although the number of train accidents, injuries and fatalities in the United States has slowly declined over the years,  there have been 1,315 train accidents reported in 2014, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).  Fifty of the accidents involved passenger trains; two fatalities have been reported.  The majority of accidents occurred in train yards, according to the FRA.