NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A special federal team of rail safety experts began a 60-day probe Monday into Metro-North’s operations following the deadly derailment in the Bronx earlier this month.
The effort, dubbed “Operation Deep Dive,” will assess a broad range of practices at Metro-North, including oversight of engineers, fatigue management programs and medical requirements for crew members, the Federal Railroad Administration said last week.
It also will examine compliance with federal regulations, equipment maintenance, traffic controller training and protection for employees, the FRA said. A report with recommendations will follow, it said.
Meanwhile, Metro-North board members met for their first public meeting since the Dec. 1 crash that killed four people and injured more than 60 others when the train ran off the track near the Spuyten Duyvil station.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that the train was going 82 mph as it entered a 30 mph curve. The train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, said he became dazed or nodded at the controls, according to federal investigators, his lawyer and a union official.
“You do a lot of soul-searching to say, ‘what can prevent this from happening?'” MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said. “Because we have a responsibility to the public, to our employees, and the people in the region to assure we are operating a safe system.”
He said the agency is already making safety improvements ahead of federal recommendations.
“We will not shirk our responsibilities to do anything and everything we can do in advance of those reports being completed,” he said.
“Wherever we get good advice to do better we’ll take it, but we’re not going to wait to make actions,” Metro-North President Howard Permut said.
A week after the derailment, Metro-North adjusted its signaling system so trains approaching the bend too fast will trigger the alarm and automatic braking system.
Similar upgrades are planned over the next few months to enforce speed limits at eight other curves and bridges in Metro-North’s 384-mile system.
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said in 30 years, it’s estimated 1.7 million trains have rounded the Spuyten Duyvil curve.
“If we weren’t alert to the kind of questions that are now being asked, what else out there should we be looking at with a different light,” he said.
On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer said safety inspections are “woefully underfunded” and that the FRA “simply doesn’t have enough resources to fully inspect our rail lines, to sufficiently prepare implementation of safety measures or even do safety spot checks around the country.”
Schumer and Sen. Richard Blumenthal are asking Congress to meet the Obama administration’s full request of $185 million for safety and operations for fiscal year 2014. That’s an increase of about $15 million over this year’s budget, which cut $9 million from the railroad administration.
“When the FRA is so underfunded, they’re not doing their job. So it’s up to the local railroads to do it and some do better jobs than others as we’ve seen,” Schumer said.
Blumenthal said that, in general, “the Federal Railroad Administration has been AWOL on safety.”
FRA spokesman Kevin Thompson said in a statement Sunday that the agency is committed to continuous safety improvements and that rail inspections are “one of many resources we rely on to ensure rail safety, including audits, reports, advancing risk reduction programs and furthering technology.”
Thompson said 2012 was “the safest year in rail history” and accidents are down 43 percent over the past decade.
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