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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Panel recommends safety improvements at MTA's three railroads


Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Blue Ribbon Panel studying safety and maintenance practices at its three railroads yesterday announced 29 recommendations to improve operations and safety.

Created a year ago after a series of safety-related incidents at MTA Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and New York City Transit (NYCT), the panel identified Metro-North's safety culture as an area of particular concern, noting the railroad's emphasis on on-time performance did not leave employees with enough time to perform necessary track inspections and maintenance work, MTA officials said in a press release.

The panel recommended Metro-North automate its track condition assessments and use the data to inform maintenance planning. The panel noted that the railroad already has made significant improvements in those areas by changing schedules to allow more time for track maintenance and procuring more automated track inspection equipment.

All three railroads have persistent rail conditions that require sustained management attention, the panel found. The conditions include a need to implement data systems that monitor all track elements through their lifecycle and integrate inspection data to provide all employees with the best possible understanding of track asset conditions. The panel concluded that a confidential close-call reporting system would help Metro-North and LIRR better understand safety risks before they lead to accidents. Also, all three railroads should do more to share information and practices with each other, panelists determined.

The recommendations come after more than a year of studying MTA's network, interviewing employees from front-line workers to executives, attending safety training, visiting work sites, and comparing findings against practices at other railroads.

"The panel's work is an important step as the MTA addresses not just the particular problems we have experienced since last year, but the general safety culture as well," said MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Prendergast. "The panel found the MTA has already taken significant steps to address these challenges, though we have a lot of work ahead of us."

Measures already taken to improve safety include the creation of a chief safety officer position; ordering all operating agencies to designate a top official who is solely responsible for safety and reports directly to the agency president; and the creation of a Safety Committee of MTA's board.