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Feds Say New York's Metro-North Rail Line Values Punctuality Over Safety

Cranes prepare to salvage the last car from from a train derailment in the Bronx section of New York,  in December 2013.
Seth Wenig
Cranes prepare to salvage the last car from from a train derailment in the Bronx section of New York, in December 2013.

The Federal Railroad Administration issued a scathing report on New York's Metro-North rail line.

The inquiry, which was launched after a derailment in December that killed four passengers and injured 70, found that the rail line put punctuality above safety.

The Washington Post reports:

"'This is a severe assessment, and it is intended as an urgent call to action to Metro-North's leadership as they work to develop a comprehensive plan to turn Metro-North into a model of safe railroad operations,' the report said.

"The FRA's inquiry, dubbed 'Operation Deep Dive,' was launched in the wake of a fatal derailment in December. A seven-car Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx, killing four passengers and injuring more than 70 others. That was the fourth big accident that occurred on Metro-North's system last year: A derailment and accident in Maysent more than 60 people to the hospital; a worker was struck and killed by a Metro-North train less than two weeks later; and a CSX freight train derailed on Metro-North's tracks in July.

"Problems have continued this year. A worker was killed by a Metro-North train on Monday. In January, trains were halted for hours due to what was described as ahuman error during a repair project. There have also been service issues caused by outside events, like the Harlem building explosion on Wednesday; debris was thrown onto nearby Metro-North tracks, cutting off service for several hours."

The New York Times reports that the railroad's control center encouraged workers "to rush when responding to signal failures." At the same time, employees found it hard to get enough time on the tracks to make repairs.

The Times adds:

"The railroad administration faulted the inadequate training of track inspectors and the 'general state' of track maintenance. The operations control center included 'no sound barriers between the controllers or chief dispatchers,' increasing the risk for distraction, the report said. Safety briefings were poorly attended, one of many 'obvious signs of a weak safety culture,' it said.

"And workers across Metro-North often perceived that on-time performance was 'the most important criteria,' the review found.

"The railroad administration said that Metro-North — which runs from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan into New York City's northern suburbs and Connecticut — must submit plans to improve its safety and training programs, among other changes, within 60 days."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.