Gannett News Service
December 6, 2013
Even before Sunday's fatal derailment in the Bronx, Metro-North's safety culture and the crashworthiness of its passenger rail cars already were under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) after two other accidents earlier this year.
Those accidents?a May 17 derailment in Bridgeport, CT, and a May 28 fatal accident involving a foreman in West Haven, CT, where a new station was under construction?remain under investigation. A final report is not expected until May 2014.
The May 17 derailment involved an evening commuter train out of Manhattan filled mostly with Connecticut residents. According to the NTSB, the train had stopped in Fairfield, CT, and had accelerated to 74 mph en route to Bridgeport when it crossed over a section of rail where the "joint bars" connecting two lengths of rail had broken. A second train traveling in the opposite direction struck the first train after it derailed.
There were numerous injuries but no fatalities. The engineer on the second train had applied his brakes and was traveling at 23 mph at the time of impact.
Both trains were equipped with newer M-8 passenger cars built by Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing. The M-8 rail cars were placed into service beginning in March 2011. The initial 38 were manufactured in Kobe, Japan, and subsequent cars were manufactured in Lincoln, NE. Metro-North plans to acquire 405 of the M-8s.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a Monday news conference that NTSB officials told him "it looks pretty certain that the tracks were OK" when Sunday's derailment occurred. That leaves human error?the engineer may have failed to brake going into a turn?or equipment failure involving the brakes.
The NTSB said the train was traveling 82 mph in a 70-mph area just prior to reaching the turn, where the speed limit is 30 mph.
Sunday's accident likely will renew NTSB's scrutiny of Metro-North's safety culture, despite progress made by the railroad in recent months. NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman last month commended Metro-North for "taking a lot of steps in the right direction" with recent safety improvements.
The railroad hired Transportation Technology Center Inc. (TTCI) to inspect all 750 miles of Metro-North track using infrared and ground-penetrating radar over a 12-week period. That work was completed last month, and 30 locations that needed immediate attention were fixed the same day, the railroad said.
The railroad also is replacing concrete ties subject to water damage that are located along a 6-mile stretch of rail in the Bronx. It is replacing them with wooden ties that better withstand water.
The maintenance-of-way department has been reorganized and a new administrator has been named. Additional managers, track welders and track workers are being hired.
Additional safety steps have been added to the process for taking sections of track out of service and restoring service. Each track worker is being issued a pager that will give them a code they must personally use in order to restore service.
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