Railroad create new safety-chief post [Greenwich Time]

February 24, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Greenwich Time

Metro-North has announced the establishment of a chief safety officer to evaluate rules and procedures and help eliminate potential hazards from the railroad’s operations.

Anne Kirsch, Metro-North Railroad’s current chief safety and security officer, will be named to the new safety-only senior management post and report directly to Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Thomas Prendergast.

Kirsch is to report monthly, along with top safety officials of other divisions of the MTA such as the Long Island Rail Road.

“The events of the last year have made clear to everyone in the MTA how important it is to create a culture where all employees act to eliminate risks, and changing our executive structure will ensure safety remains a dedicated agency value,” Prendergast said.

The decision to create the safety oversight management position comes less than two weeks after Giulietti took over as president amid a troubled period in which the railroad has seen two major derailments.

Last May, one train derailed and collided with another in Bridgeport, injuring 76 people. In December, four people were killed when a train derailed on a sharp curve near Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., questioned why the railroad was so slow to dedicate an executive position to safety.

“The question is, why wasn’t it done months or years ago?” Blumenthal said Sunday. “Why did it take so long to do something so obviously important, when folks like myself have been urging accountability for months and months?”

Giulietti and Prendergast have promised state officials in Connecticut that Metro-North will submit an 100-day improvement plan by early March, including plans to implement a collision-avoidance system by the federal deadline of December 2015.

Railroad officials have previously said integrating the system by the deadline was not logistically possible.

On Monday, top safety officials at the MTA’s different divisions are expected to discuss how they monitor critical personnel and to evaluating new safety procedures during committee meetings before the agency’s board.

Metro-North is continuing to modify its automatic cab signaling systems related to speed limits as mandated by Federal Railroad Administration four days after the Dec. 1 derailment near the Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx, N.Y.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, a ranking member of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, said that she believes the new post is a step in the right direction.

After a system-wide shutdown of Metro-North’s signal system during evening rush hour on Jan. 22, Boucher said, customers told her they were evacuated onto rescue trains without adequate lighting. The outage stranded passengers on trains in frigid temperatures for more than two hours, in some cases, before they could be led to rescue trains.

“It is now the end of February, and they are establishing a safety officer,” Boucher said. “There have been four fatalities and dozens upon dozens injured, as well as people who have been evacuated from trains. They need to improve their planning and procedures and practice them all the time.”