Kat Aaron is an Associate Producer for WNYC, where she is part of Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
Metro-North Not Safe Enough, Panel Finds
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 02:08 PM
A safety panel found Metro-North needs a “fundamental rebuilding” of its safety culture. The panel was convened convened by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the wake of a series of derailments and employee deaths.
“We hope our report provides a framework for improvement, and we expect our recommendations will lead to better and safer rail operations throughout the MTA,” said Mortimer L. Downey, a former MTA executive who chaired the group of transportation experts.
They found that the safety culture at the Long Island Rail Road and New York City Transit is “performing fairly well,” but at Metro-North, “there is strong evidence to suggest that this is not the case.” Safety culture is the term transit experts use to cover everything from employee practices to infrastructure upkeep.
Track maintenance needs an upgrade at all the transit agencies, they reported, including adopting new technologies that can automatically detect problems on the rails. But while there’s room for improvement at the LIRR and the subway, it’s Metro-North where the panel saw the biggest problems, with track maintenance “in a ‘fire-fighting’ mode.” Long-time workers are retiring or leaving for the private sector, and their departures are “having unintended negative consequences” on safety-critical maintenance, the panel found.
“The panel found the MTA has already taken significant steps to address these challenges, though we have a lot of work ahead of us,” said MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast.
Among the panel’s 29 recommendations: create an anonymous “Close Call Reporting System” for LIRR and MetroNorth workers to flag problems; ensure capital programs are allocating enough money for system maintenance; and engage both staff and customers in safety discussions.