Senior officials were briefed by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Friday morning about the results of the 60-day "Operation Deep Dive" review of Metro-North Railroad. The investigation was initiated after the Dec. 1, 2013 accident in the Bronx and aimed to provide a comprehensive safety evaluation of Metro-North and to identify opportunities for improvement.
According to FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo, three overarching findings came from the report: 1. clear overemphasis on on-time performance to the detriment of safety, 2. ineffective safety department and poor safety culture, 3. inadequate training program. Szabo admitted that the report confirms their worst fears but "improvements have been made in real time… the riders can be ensured that the trains are much safer today than they were three months ago due to immediate changes in track inspections and modifications in signaling systems."
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal asserted that his takeaway from the report was not that Metro-North cared too much about on-time performance but that it cared too little about safety and "these safety lapses are rooted in bad management." He stated that "the area that seems to be lacking in the report is related to changes in management and so far Metro-North has made no indication to changes in management…incompetence has to have consequences and new leadership, especially the president, has to be a new practice."
As a result of the report, the FRA made 21 specific actions that Metro-North must take, most prominently the installation of positive train control (PTC) systems to ensure that the trains are not traveling at excessive speeds. According to Representative Nita Lowey (NY-17), the PTC technology systems must be installed in all Metro-North trains on the Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven lines by Dec. 29, 2014. Lowey hopes that Congress will fully fund the requested $825 million to assist railroads with the installment of the PTC systems.
According to Representative Elizabeth Esty (CT-5), it is a complex issue as "there is new technology that needs to be installed immediately but we are also dealing with an aging workforce and the MTA must pass on the skills and culture in a way that underscores safety and responsibility."
Metro-North is required to submit a report to the FRA by May 17, 2014 to outline specifically how they will address the Administration's recommendations and requirements.