Spuyten Duyvil Metro-North Railroad Accident: “Are We There Yet?”

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Been a week since this trategy and a lot has happened.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation continues but shouldn’t be too long before publishing. It is unlike the Canada process (that recent oil train iwreck n Québec) which usually takes a year.

U.S. transportation officials ordered the Metro-North Railroad on Friday to quickly overhaul its signal system and temporarily put an extra worker in the driver’s cab on some routes that have major speed changes, including the one where a speeding commuter train derailed this week, killing four people

The emergency order by the Federal Railroad Administration was a reaction to Sunday’s wreck in the Bronx, where a train flew off the tracks after hitting a curve at 82 mph, nearly three times the 30 mph speed limit. The lone train operator told investigators he nodded at the controls and didn’t apply the brakes until it was too late.

The order gives the railroad until Dec. 31 to provide the Federal Railroad Administration with a plan and target dates for modifying the existing signal system so that trains will automatically slow down in places where the speed limit drops by more than 20 mph.

Until those signal changes are made, the order will require the rail line to put at least two qualified workers in the operator’s cab on sections of track where speeds vary.

On some routes, this may mean that a conductor can head to the cab and accompany the engineer for a few minutes when the train is approaching a slower zone. On others, there will have to be an extra crew member who makes the whole trip because the operator’s cab is not accessible from other train cars.

The extra workers will be required until the railroad upgrades its existing signal and automatic control systems in a way that will deliver “adequate advance warning” of speed restrictions, federal officials said.

On Wednesday, three days after the Manhattan-bound Hudson line train tumbled off the rails in the Bronx, killing four people and injuring more than 70, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that an alerter system had been installed in the locomotive pushing the train, but not in the front cab, where the engineer was positioned, properly, at the time of the crash.

The train was in a “push-pull” configuration, common on Metro-North. In such arrangements, trains are pushed by a locomotive in one direction and pulled in the other.

The authority said a “push-pull” model kept the noise and exhaust of a locomotive as far as possible from the halls of Grand Central Terminal, though diesel trains typically switch to an electric mode as they approach. There is also generally no way for trains to turn around there, the authority said.

The alerter system sounds an alarm after 25 seconds of inactivity, and applies the brakes automatically if an engineer does not respond within 15 seconds.

It is not clear how long before the crash Mr. Rockefeller became inattentive, or whether the alerter system could have prevented the derailment or reduced its severity. It appears likely, though, that if Mr. Rockefeller had experienced a similar episode for an extended period on a northbound trip — when he would have been stationed in the locomotive — the siren might have sounded. In effect, trains configured and equipped like the one in the derailment employ the “alerter” system on only half of their runs.

While much of the safety discussion since the crash has focused on an expensive control system that remains years away from reality for the transportation authority, rail experts have said that a number of lower-cost remedies could have been put in place — and should be in the future — both inside the train and across the system governing it.

The derailment was the deadliest in New York City in more than two decades, prompting a federal investigation and leading local authorities and prosecutors to collect evidence for a possible criminal investigation into the actions of Mr. Rockefeller, who has been suspended without pay.

One potential safety improvement would be ensuring that the alerter systems were installed in every cab. The authority had said that new cars would include the systems in all cabs.

Other improvements could involve a modification of the existing signaling system in which coded electrical pulses sent through the rails are picked up by the trains and displayed as signals in the engineer’s cab.

The signals tell the engineer how fast the train can go, and if they are ignored, the system warns the engineer and if necessary can “dump” the air from the brakes, stopping the train.

In the meantime, things are returning to normal. Passenger service is back to regular strength and freight has resumed. Usually, a south-bound freight brings fruits, vegetables and stuff like that into New York. Finally got to run Thursday. It was 125 cars long. The longest freight train into New York City in recorded history. About 8 locomotives.