Less than two weeks after a fatal crash that killed four people and a few days after the MTA rushed to implement federally mandated safety improvements, the Federal Railroad Administration has announced it will begin an exhaustive review of Metro-North’s “safety culture” over the next two months. The 60-day review will commence on Monday, and this so-called Operation Deep Dive is the first of its kind.
“Safety is our top priority, and this in-depth investigation will help ensure that Metro-North is doing everything possible to improve its safety record,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “Together with our other recent efforts, Operation Deep Dive will give travelers the peace of mind they deserve when traveling throughout the railroad’s region.”
According to the FRA, the review will be comprehensive and will explore the following factors:
- Track, signal and rolling stock maintenance, inspection and repair practices;
- Protection for employees working on rail infrastructure, locomotives and rail cars;
- Communication between mechanical and transportation departments at maintenance facilities;
- Operation control center procedures and rail traffic controller training;
- Compliance with federal Hours of Service regulations, including fatigue management programs;
- Evaluating results of operational data to measure efficiency of employees’ execution and comprehension of all applicable federal regulations;
- Locomotive engineer oversight;
- Engineer and conductor certification; and
- Operating crew medical requirements.
Once the review wraps in mid-February, the FRA will produce a report with its findings and recommendations. Then agency will assess Metro-North’s compliance with the safety order issued last week and will assess if other actions are necessary. According to various reports, the FRA decision stemmed not only from the fatal crash earlier this month but also from a series of accidents, fatal and non-fatal, over the course of 2013.
For its part, Metro-North has seemingly embraced the review. In comments to The Times, a spokesman said the agency was examining its safety culture and working to assess “whether there are any common factors” to the various accidents this month. Meanwhile, the MTA is hoping that, in light of recent bad press and the perception of the problem, it can find a silver lining in this cloud. Ted Mann of The Wall Street Journal reports on a large fiscal ask:
Also Thursday, the MTA asked the FRA for a new $1 billion loan from a federally controlled program to pay for installation of positive train control, or PTC, a next-generation signal system that is intended to prevent train crashes caused by operator error, including speeding.
The $1 billion loan request comes in addition to the $2.2 billion MTA has already sought to help pay for East Side Access, a massive, subterranean new terminal station for the Long Island Rail Road beneath the streets north of Grand Central Terminal. That loan request has not been approved.
In a letter to Administrator Joseph Szabo, Mr. Prendergast said the federal loan would provide a much needed infusion of cash as the MTA develops PTC systems for Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road. The MTA is among a number of large commuter railroads that said they do not expect to meet the December 2015 deadline to install PTC systems on all inter-city passenger and many freight rail lines.
As Mann notes, the $1 billion request is for — surprise! — $300 million more than the MTA originally priced out a PTC installation. It’s unclear why the project is over budget, but the new number comes as no surprise. As Mann notes as well, the MTA does not believe that it will be in compliance with a 2015 deadline for PTC, but New York’s is hardly the only transit agency facing such a problem. Legislation to extend the deadline to 2020 is pending the U.S. Senate.