Sen. Boucher Statement on Operation Deep Dive Report of Metro North by the Federal Railroad Administration

March 14, 2014

Hartford, CT – State Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) and ranking member of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee released the following statement today re: Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Deep Dive Report of Metro North.

“This clearly is an urgent call to action for leadership at Metro North.

“According to the 31 page report, ‘findings demonstrate that Metro-North has emphasized on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and adequate maintenance of its infrastructure.’

“I agree with the investigators that these problems are beyond any one person or accident. There is a lack of a culture of safety and a lack of proper procedures and training when it comes to making sure that commuter safety is priority number one.
This is evident from the numerous fatalities and injuries on Metro North within a very short time frame.

“A series of failures arising from mismanagement, negligence, and aged railroad infrastructure have resulted in fatal accidents and numerous injuries. Equipment breakdowns have considerably slowed train traffic or brought it to a halt. Rail commuters have reacted to this steadily worsening situation with an outcry for help.

“The level of frustration and safety concerns on the part of commuters is unprecedented. Commuter safety has been compromised to the point where commuters worry about derailments and power failures that will leave them stranded on the tracks.

“Some of the report’s findings are not surprising given the recent incidents that have continued to occur since the report was initiated:

  • inadequate training of track inspectors
  • “general state” of track maintenance
  • operations control center included “no sound barriers between the controllers or chief dispatchers,” increasing the risk for distraction
  • Safety briefings were poorly attended
  • “obvious signs of a weak safety culture”
  • workers often perceived that on-time performance was “the most important criteria”
  • About half of the dispatching work force has less than three years of experience
  • Managers receive no formal training in how to perform operational testing for rail traffic controllers.

“Balancing safety with reliable on time service is going to be difficult. Since commuting on this rail line has become so unreliable, some commuters have stated that they are now at risk of losing their jobs. The public does not believe that Metro North has the management capacity to resolve these problems on its own. Unfortunately, if new management doesn’t make significant changes soon, we could see a change in commuting paths.
“It is possible to have on time service with a solid safety record especially, when technology can be used. Unfortunately, both nationally and at the state level our transportation system has gotten short shrift from government focus and funding.

“Connecticut lawmakers have been asking for attention and support in a letter to federal authorities sent on February 3, 2014. The letter indicated we want federal and state authorities give this vital service the resources and expertise it needs to change its management; its practices, procedure and safety protocol as well as strengthen its equipment and infrastructure. The result would be a railroad that is safe, more dependable, resilient and responsive to the needs of its commuters.

“I look forward to reading Metro North’s plan to improve its safety and training programs. They have 60 days to do it. I would like to see Metro North commit to reinstituting random safety inspections of trains and crews. Ultimately, riders need to know that there is a plan with benchmarks and deadlines in place. They must feel safe riding the rails once again.”

By May 17, 2014, Metro-North shall submit a plan to FRA that addresses all the actions outlined in the report. The FRA will meet monthly with Metro-North to review and evaluate their progress.