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Metro-North President Calls Federal Report ‘Troubling’

The president of New York’s Metro-North Railroad called a federal report finding that the commuter service puts on-time performance above safety “deeply troubling” and vowed to make changes.

Metro-North, which serves 83 million riders annually in the New York, Connecticut and New Jersey suburbs around New York City, will improve training and track inspections, reorganize the safety department and install cameras in all trains, President Joseph Giulietti said today at a news conference at New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

“Safety was not the top priority,” he said. “It must be and it will be. I have a clear message for our customers and our employees: Safety must come first at Metro-North.”

A Federal Railroad Administration report released today found that pressure to keep trains running on time led managers and supervisors to allow inspections, maintenance and employee training to lapse.

The report comes more than three months after a crash near the Spuyten Duyvil Station in the Bronx killed four people and injured almost 70. The incident was one of four “high-profile accidents” in 2013, the railroad administration said.

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Metro-North is operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which also runs New York City’s subways. The agency is controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“We’ve been concerned about the entire mess,” Cuomo, a first-term Democrat, said today at a press briefing in Manhattan. “We’ve changed leadership at Metro North. We’re doing everything we can as quickly as we can to make it safer.”

The Railroad Administration found that “a deficient safety culture” affects all facets of Metro-North, including track inspection and maintenance, operating rules and worker protections.

The agency issued recommendations, from using advanced technology to inspect tracks, to working with unions to increase the availability of off-hour maintenance time. Metro-North also must address employee fatigue and bolster training. The railroad must submit a plan to the administration within 60 days on how it will improve safety and training.

“This is a searing indictment of sustained serious safety failings,” U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said on a conference call with reporters. “It shows a litany of safety lapses rooted in bad management.”

Giulietti was appointed Metro-North president Jan. 9, replacing Howard Permut, who resigned after the Dec. 1 crash in the Bronx. That incident caused the commuter railroad’s first passenger deaths when a train bound for Grand Central from Poughkeepsie derailed on a 30-mile-per-hour (48 kilometer-per-hour) curve while traveling 82 mph.

Giulietti said the issues uncovered by the administration confirmed his initial assessment of Metro-North’s culture and priorities. Just this week, a Metro-North worker was struck and killed by a train in East Harlem.

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