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NTSB report cites 'ineffective safety management' in five Metro-North accidents


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday reported the findings of its special investigation into five MTA Metro-North Railroad accidents that occurred between May 2013 and March 2014, including the Dec. 1, 2013, derailment near the Bronx, N.Y., that caused four fatalities and dozens of injuries.

The board identified several recurring safety issues at Metro-North, including inadequate and ineffective track inspection and maintenance, extensive deferred maintenance issues, inadequate safety oversight, and deficiencies in passenger-car crashworthiness, roadway worker protection procedures and organizational safety culture, according to an NTSB press release.

"Seeing this pattern of safety issues in a single railroad is troubling," said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher Hart. "The NTSB has made numerous recommendations to the railroad and the regulator that could have prevented or mitigated these accidents. But recommendations can only make a difference if the recipients of our recommendations act on them."

Regarding the Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx, the board concluded that the Metro-North train derailed after the engineer fell sleep, then failed to stop the train from speeding through a 30-mph curve at 82 mph. The NTSB cited an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea and a "dramatically" changed work schedule as the reasons for the engineer's fatigue.

The four other Metro-North accidents addressed in the report involved a derailment and subsequent collision of two Metro-North trains in Bridgeport, Conn., on May 17, 2013; an employee fatality in West Haven, Conn., on May 28, 2013; a CSX Transportation derailment on Metro-North tracks in the Bronx, N.Y., on July 18, 2013; and an employee fatality in Manhattan, N.Y., on March 10, 2014.

On Nov. 19, the NTSB plans to hold a meeting to discuss the numerous safety issues identified during its investigation of the railroad. Investigators will discuss all five Metro-North accidents, examine the common elements found in each, and highlight lessons learned and steps that need to be taken to make Metro-North safer for passengers, NTSB officials said.

The board also will issue safety recommendations aimed at improving safety on Metro-North and other railroads. Earlier this year, the NTSB made safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and to Metro-North that address some ongoing issues.

In response to the NTSB's findings, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) condemned the safety failures of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metro-North.

"This report shows in new depth and detail a railroad in disarray, equipment in disrepair and a safety agency in a sleep-like daze. Inspections were missed, and warning signs were disregarded again and again and again," he said in a prepared statement.

Blumenthal also called the report a "powerful indictment" of the FRA's lack of safety oversight.

"The FRA has failed to implement 63 NTSB safety recommendations. We must assure that safety and reliability standards receive real enforcement, not just lip service, which is why Sen. [Charles] Schumer and I have authored major, comprehensive legislation to help restore rigorous public oversight and scrutiny, and rebuild public trust and confidence," he said.

The proposed legislation would "lay the groundwork for life-saving investments in important technology like positive train control and other upgrades that are proven to save lives and enhance service," said Blumenthal.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/29/2014