Metro-North Response to Spuyten Duvil accident

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) yesterday announced that MTA Metro-North Railroad is making immediate improvements to reinforce safety at critical curves and movable bridges along its right of way.The improvements were directed Friday by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter to the MTA and by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in an emergency order issued late last week.

The emergency order directs Metro-North to take immediate steps to ensure its train crews don’t exceed speed limits, modify its existing signal system and provide two employees to operate trains where major speed restrictions are in place.

The order also requires the railroad to provide the FRA with a list of main track locations where there is a reduction of more than 20 mph in the maximum authorized train speed by tomorrow. In addition, Metro-North must identify appropriate modifications to its existing automatic train-control system or other signal systems to enable adequate advance warning of and adherence to such speed restrictions.

The modifications will help prevent another over-the-speed-limit event if a locomotive engineer fails to take actions to appropriately slow or stop a passenger train, FRA officials said in a press release.

The FRA’s order followed the Dec. 1 accident in which a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx, N.Y., killing four passengers and injuring as many as 70 others. In its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that just prior to the derailment, the train was traveling 82 mph as it approached a 30-mph curve.

“Metro-North is taking important steps to improve safety for its customers and employees, and I expect the railroad will continue searching for ways to improve its operations and fully restore its commuters’ confidence,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast in a press release.

The railroad also must submit to the FRA for approval an action plan that ensures the safety of its operations for passengers and employees by Dec. 31. The plan must contain target dates and milestones for implementing necessary signal system modifications.

“Last year was the safest on record for our nation’s rail industry,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo. “Even with a 43 percent decline in train accidents nationwide over the past decade, we must remain steadfast and vigilant to ensure passengers and employees are safe.”

Meanwhile, Metro-North officials announced the improvements they’ve made to date. Signal crews have installed new protections at the Spuyten Duyvil curve, the site of the derailment, which will warn train engineers of the approaching speed reduction and will automatically apply the train’s emergency brakes if speed is not lowered to the 30 mph maximum in the curve.

The signal improvement at Spuyten Duyvil was done simultaneously and in coordination with work to restore track, power and signal systems there after the derailment, Metro-North officials said.

By tomorrow, all Metro-North trains will enhance communication between train engineers and conductors to ensure trains are operated at safe speeds at four other critical curves as well as at five movable bridges, they said. Conductors will stand with engineers at each train’s control cab through the critical curves to verbally confirm that speed limits are adhered to. Where the train layout prohibits the conductor from reaching the engineer in a locomotive, they will communicate by radio. They also will communicate by radio at the five movable bridges.

Metro-North engineers are developing new signal protections to automatically enforce speed restrictions at the other four critical curves by March, and at the five movable bridges by September, Metro-North officials said.

The railroad also has surveyed its tracks and will reduce the maximum authorized speed at 26 locations in order to eliminate all locations where the speed limit drops by more than 20 mph. Signs will be posted along the right-of-way to alert engineers of reductions in maximum authorized speed at the four curves by Dec. 16.