NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Richard Blumenthal are calling on Metro-North to fully investigate Wednesday night’s derailment of a train at Grand Central Terminal, saying more must be done to prevent similar incidents in the future.
In a letter to Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, Schumer, D-N.Y., and Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the derailment “should be fully investigated and the causes should be immediately addressed.”
“While we understand that it is still too early to fully understand what happened, we urge you to conduct a thorough and rigorous investigation into the derailment and ask that you report back to us on any and all of your findings,” the letter said.
The derailment happened around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday when a Harlem bound train jumped the tracks as it was pulling out of Track 18 at Grand Central.
Police and rail workers helped to guide the estimated 800 passengers on board back onto the platform.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority called it a “minor derailment.” A Metro-North spokesperson said no one was hurt and that all of the passengers were able to walk off the train through rear cars still at the platform.
For hours following the incident, trains on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines were delayed 15 to 20 minutes traveling in and out of the terminal due to the disabled train, according to the MTA.
MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the situation remained orderly the whole time.
“It’s not chaos. It’s not chaotic. It is different than a normal night, but it’s not chaotic at all. They’re really doing a good job of moving people home. It is inconvenient to have a combined train or have a track change but it’s certainly not chaos,” Anders told WCBS 880.
While no one was hurt, the senators said it delayed hundreds of thousands of daily commuters.
“While we are lucky that this accident did not cause any injuries, we may not be so lucky in the future and I am urging the Metro-North to fully and quickly investigate this accident, report back its findings and develop any further recommendations to avoid such an accident in the future,” Schumer said in a statement.
In a statement Wednesday, Blumenthal said the Federal Railroad Administration has begun an investigation into the incident.
“This incident is more than a minor inconvenience,” Blumenthal said. “It recalls past very serious incidents and has caused disruption and delay for countless travelers throughout the metropolitan area, and I want an explanation right away as to what the cause was.”
But transit advocate Jim Cameron, head of the Commuter Action Group, said he had no issue with the MTA calling it a “minor derailment.”
“They did not use some euphemism as they might have in the past about a technical issue or a service disruption,” he told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane. “They called it like it was.”
Schumer disagreed with references to the derailment as ‘minor.’
“There is no such thing as a minor derailment,” he said, “We need to get to the bottom of this quickly. We don’t need Metro-North to paper over it.”
In May, the FRA mandated new safety measures after four major incidents on Metro-North trains in 2013, including the Dec. 1 derailment near the Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx that killed four people.
In their letter to Giulietti, the senators said they understand that Metro-North “has been working to improve safety across its system,” but said “we cannot let any issues go unaddressed and Metro-North must remain vigilant in its pursuit of the highest possible safety standards.”
“As Metro-North works to improve its safety culture, addressing and preventing issues like the one that occurred last night is critical,” the letter said.
Some passengers also believe more needs to be done.
“Metro-North I think is the worst railroad system I’ve ever come in contact with,” one commuter told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
“I get scared,” said commuter Aleksa Caruso. “What if that was my train?
“This is not a new news story,” said rider Alexis Cole. “This is an old story coming up time and time again. They have to be more cautious.”
“You just wonder, again, about safety and what’s being done about safety on the rails,” said Steve Casey of Ossining.
“It’s scary of course cause you know that’s your life,” said rider Marva Dash.
But other commuters didn’t see Wednesday’s derailment as part of a bigger problem.
“I really rely on the trains to get into the city on time,” commuter Rose Arditi said.
“Metro-North has been great since I’ve been up here,” said rider Bob Grossman. “Beats the LIRR any day.”
“You’ve got a tricky area because you’re going way up into the countryside and given the funding limitations it’s hard to keep things going,” Joel Tennenbaum added.
Hours after the derailment at Grand Central, an empty train jumped the tracks in a rail yard in White Plains. Metro-North said it was a weather related switch problem, CBS2’s Lou Young reported.
An empty train apparently hit a snow-clogged switch.
The train was later put back in service.
Metro-North said the two derailments were minor and unrelated, Young reported.
In a safety report on the railroad the NTSB criticized Metro-North for being more focused on on-time performance than safety. As if to underline the cause of that, many passengers complained about on-time performance.
Inconvenience gets their attention.
“I’d rather take the train. I think it’s safer than driving in the snow,” Rose Arditi said, “I wish they were more on time and reliable.”
One train expert noted that for many passengers a late train that arrives safely is just late.
Even though they are calling for answers, Senators Blumenthal and Schumer said Metro-North has made improvements in its safety procedures since the deadly derailment in the Bronx.