WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Regulators investigating the fatal Metro-North Railroad train derailment recommended Tuesday that the railroad install recorders on its vehicles and new speed-limit signs along its tracks.
In a letter to the railroad’s new president, Joseph Giulietti, the National Transportation Safety Board said the recommendations arose from the Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx that killed four people.
The agency said it was studying the recommendations and working with the NTSB “to address questions about implementation of the report’s recommendations.”
Metro-North currently posts speed-limit signs where speeds are temporarily restricted, but not in every case where a restriction is permanent, the letter said. The permanent restrictions are listed in timetables, the NTSB said.
It said that on the curve where the train derailed — where a permanent 30-mph limit was in effect — no sign was posted until after the accident. The NTSB has found that the train hit the curve at 82 mph.
Erecting signs at all such locations “will alert train operating crews that speed restrictions are forthcoming and will comply with industry best practices,” the letter said.
The train in the Bronx derailment was going 82 miles per hour where speed limit was 30.
But the NTSB acknowledged that posting such signs “may not have prevented” the derailment.
It also called for recorders facing both into and out of all locomotives and cars with engineer cabs. The recorders would capture audio and images that could be used to investigate accidents and to monitor safety compliance, it said.
The recorders would be “capable of providing recordings to verify that train crew actions are in accordance with rules and procedures that are essential to safety,” the NTSB said.
The board said it has been recommending such recorders for years and noted that the Federal Railroad Administration has not ordered implementation.
Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a news release, “Understanding what is happening inside the cab just prior to a crash can provide crucial information about how to prevent future accidents.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “This report should spur the FRA to move quickly on making these cameras mandatory, and prompt Metro-North to install them ASAP — and not wait until the feds require them to do so.”
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, Schumer emphasized that most engineers do their job perfectly well.
“But this type of measure is aimed at the few bad apples, and we learned, unfortunately, a few months ago, that a few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch,” he said.
Currently, there are no checks or monitors inside the conductor’s car to verify the operator isn’t texting of distracted or falling asleep.
“You would think that they would have it, and somebody would be watching or providing the conductor with some warnings,” said Donna Manson of Bedford, Westchester County.
Schumer and Blumenthal urged Metro-North to act fast.
“There’s nothing novel or high-tech about cameras facing inward and outward. There’s nothing particularly expensive about it. It should be standard operating equipment,” Blumenthal said.
But rail safety expert Steven Harrod said the steps would help in investigating accidents but do little to prevent them.
“They aren’t very revolutionary suggestions,” he told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “These aren’t exciting new news from a railway point of view.”
Harrod said automated crash-avoidance technology would be more effective, albeit more expensive.
The NTSB’s investigation of the derailment is ongoing, and its final report isn’t expected for months. Representatives of the train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, have said he may have lost focus at the controls in a momentary daze before the crash.
The NTSB asked the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to respond to these recommendations within 90 days. Commuters the MTA needs to act fast.
“The train needs to catch up with modern technology and have automated controls in place, or even some manual controls, to make the trains a little safer,” said Brian Sasso of Hartsdale.
The NTSB made similar recommendations back in 2008 to railroads nationwide. Metro-North did not put the plans into place at the time, and it was not clear what action, if any, the railroad would take in light of the latest recommendations, Schneider reported.
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