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Feds Blast Metro-North, Call Recent Accidents ‘Unacceptable’

Officials Demand Immediate Safety Improvements From MTA
Deadly Derailment

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The head of the Federal Railroad Administration is demanding immediate safety improvements from Metro-North following the deadly train derailment in the Bronx.

In a letter sent to MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, Joseph Szabo said his administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation “have serious concerns.”

He cites four major incidents in seven months which he says resulted in five deaths and approximately 129 injuries, calling it “simply unacceptable.”

On May 17, an eastbound train derailed in Bridgeport, Conn., and was struck by a westbound train. The accident injured 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor.

Days later on May 28, track foreman Robert Luden was struck and killed by a passenger train in West Haven, Conn.

The National Transportation Safety Board said he had requested a track section be taken out of service for maintenance and the
section was placed back in service too soon by a student traffic controller who didn’t have the required approval.

Then on July 18, a freight train full of garbage derailed near the site of Sunday’s wreck and service was suspended.

Investigators looking into Sunday’s deadly train derailment said the commuter train was traveling at 82 mph as it approached a 30 mph zone and jumped the tracks along a sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station.

Four passengers died and more than 60 others injured.

“We have significant concerns about the current situation at Metro-North and are actively considering other ways that Federal Railroad Administration can use its federal oversight authority,” Szabo wrote in the letter. “More needs to be done. Immediate corrective action is imperative.”

The number of Metro-North train accidents has been falling for the past decade, according to a FRA database. But injuries from those accidents are up dramatically this year, and accidents this year are on the rise.

This month, Metro-North’s chief engineer, Robert Puciloski, told members of the NTSB investigating the May derailment and Luden’s death that the railroad is “behind in several areas,” including a five-year schedule of cyclical maintenance that had not been conducted in the area of the Bridgeport derailment since 2005.

The DOT is directing the MTA to immediately implement what’s called a confidential close call reporting system — a protocol used to identify precursors to significant safety measures, CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported.

It’s a key safety step the DOT says is proven to be effective and is already in place on many other rail lines across the country.

In response, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan issued a statement saying the “safety of the MTA’s customers and employees has always been, and will always continue to be, our top priority.”

“We look forward to working with the Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve safety. We are fully cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of Sunday’s tragic accident, our Blue Ribbon Panel is conducting a comprehensive probe of the safety culture throughout the MTA, and we are conducting a safety stand-down throughout all of our operations as directed by Governor Cuomo,” Donovan said. “We have been moving forward on a confidential close call reporting system, and we look forward to working with the FRA to implement it.”

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