Metro-North Must Use Crews of Two Until Signals Improved

Metro-North Railroad was ordered by U.S. safety regulators to use two train operators in certain areas, less than a week after the worst crash in its 30 years.

The railroad, whose Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx killed four people, also must improve its signaling system to ensure speed limits are followed, the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration said yesterday in an emergency order. The train that derailed was traveling almost three times the speed limit before it crashed in a curve.

The regulator intensified its action against Metro-North, operated by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, three days after telling the state agency to retrain workers and create a confidential reporting system for safety concerns.

“The MTA is working closely with the Federal Railroad Administration to review our policies and procedures in light of Sunday’s tragic derailment, and we will of course comply with whatever requirements the FRA directs us to follow,” Adam Lisberg, an MTA spokesman, said in an e-mail.

“We are examining many other possible steps we can take to improve the safety of our railroad operations, and will continue making every effort to enhance customer and employee safety,” Lisberg said.

Yesterday’s order requires Metro-North to use two-person crews anywhere speed limits are reduced by more than 20 miles per hour from the maximum normally allowed for passenger trains until it upgrades its signal system.

The railroad regulator also said it plans an “extensive investigation” of Metro-North’s compliance with safety rules.

Train Derailed

The train derailed while traveling 82 mph on a 30-mph (48 kilometer-per-hour) curve, said the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident. The straightaway leading to the curve had a limit of 70 mph.

“Even with a 43 percent decline in train accidents nationwide over the past decade, we must remain steadfast and vigilant to ensure passengers and employees are safe,” Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “The public deserves better and our mission is to drive continuous safety improvement.”

Metro-North has until Dec. 10 to give the rail-safety regulator a list of track locations where the speed limit drops more than 20 mph. It also was ordered to find ways to modify signal systems, including notifications in the cab, to give operators -- even ones who are asleep -- warning of speed restrictions.

Fourth Crash

The regulator this week said it’s concerned by Metro-North’s safety record because the Dec. 1 derailment was its fourth crash since May.

Safety stand-downs, or stopping work to review safety procedures, were held Dec. 5 on Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast wrote yesterday in response to a Dec. 3 letter from Szabo. About 9,400 employees participated, he said.

Prendergast also committed to implementing a program that allows railroad employees to confidentially report close calls without fear of discipline.

In a letter yesterday to Prendergast, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who oversees the agency, asked him to improve safety.

“We must take this moment to pause and explore what new measures can be implemented by the MTA to make Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road the safest rail system in the world,” Cuomo wrote. “New York’s commuters deserve nothing less.”

Automatic Braking

The governor asked the MTA to speed installation of an automatic-braking system that U.S. law requires by December 2015. Metro-North and the Long Island Railroad, both run by MTA, are among railroads that have sought to delay the 2015 deadline to install positive-train-control technology.

New Jersey Transit uses cab signals and automatic train controls, and approved spending $225 million in March 2011 to install positive train control, Bill Smith, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Four U.S. House members from New York and Connecticut yesterday called for the chamber’s railroads subcommittee to hold a hearing on rail safety.

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