Home Metro-North FRA report: For Metro-North, on-time obsession trumps safety

FRA report: For Metro-North, on-time obsession trumps safety

by Benjamin Kabak

In a scathing report concerning Metro-North’s recent safety troubles, the FRA accused the railroad of prioritizing trumped-up on-time performance over everything else, including safety, and urged the agency to make top-to-bottom changes to ensure the accidents we’ve seen over the past year do not become routine. The report comes just over three months after the fatal Spuyten Duyvil crash and a few days after a train struck and killed a worker on the Park Avenue viaduct.

The 31-page report is available on USDOT’s website. It does not hold back. In all aspects of operations, ranging from procedures near at-grade crossings to operations, the FRA urged the MTA to refocus on safety. “The overemphasis of on-time performance has had a detrimental effect on safety, adversely affecting the inspection and maintenance of track and negatively impacting train operations,” the report says. “Interviews and observations by FRA during the course of Deep Dive indicate that safety on Metro-North was routinely overshadowed by its emphasis of on-time performance. Employees across all crafts expressed concern with this emphasis, and further expressed the view that, while their individual safety is important, the need to maintain on-time performance is often perceived as the most important criteria.”

Furthermore, while the lack of PTC is directly to blame for December’s crash, overall, the FRA found “safety culture” lacking. “Currently, no single department or office, including the Safety Department, proactively advocates for safety, and there is no effort to look for, identify, or take ownership of safety issues across the operating departments,” the report states. “An effective Safety Department working in close communication and collaboration with both management and employees is critical to building and maintaining a good safety culture on any railroad. Metro-North’s current safety culture fails to create a positive and productive environment that encourages safe operations, and the Safety Department is ineffective as a proactive safety advocate.”

Metro-North leaders, in a press conference this morning, vowed to respond quickly. “Safety must come first at Metro-North. I will not allow any Metro-North trains to run unless I’m confident that they will run safely,” Joseph Giulietti, Metro-North president, said. “Safety was not the top priority. It must be and it will be.”

Transit advocates embraced the report’s recommendations. “Metro-North Railroad must act promptly and decisively to put its operation in order,” Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council Chair Randolph Glucksman said.
Failing to make real and meaningful changes in railroad rules, practices, and culture not only threatens the safety of Metro-North’s operation, but puts at risk the trust and faith of its riders. Metro-North’s reputation among its riders has been built over thirty years, and now is the time for management to refocus on the foundations of their operation and once again earn the riders’ confidence.”

The MTA has until May 17 to submit a safety plan, and the feds plan to meet with Metro-North officials next month to begin planning. The public’s trust in Metro-North, once the shining star amongst New York City’s commuter rail lines, depends upon it.

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11 comments

Jerrold March 14, 2014 - 3:45 pm

Off-topic,

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Jerrold March 14, 2014 - 4:03 pm

SEE BELOW

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Jerrold March 14, 2014 - 4:01 pm

Off-topic, I know, but I am putting this here so that Ben and everybody else will SEE it: I am talking about the lack of accuracy and clarity in some of the E-mails from Transit. (My previous message got accidentally “sent” before I had a chance to finish it.) In this weekend’s message about the #1 train, it said that the southbound #1 will be running “express” between 145 St. and 96 St. BUT, north of 96 St., isn’t that line a two-track line? Does “express” mean that it will skipping ALL the stops in-between? Then why don’t they say “nonstop” instead of “express”. “Going express” normally means that a (usually local) train will be stopping at only the express stations.

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Benjamin Kabak March 14, 2014 - 4:04 pm

Jerrold: This would have been far more appropriate for the service advisories — which I post every weekend! That said, there’s a third track south of 145th all the way to just north of 96th. You can see it on this track map.

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Jerrold March 14, 2014 - 5:16 pm

Good point, Ben!
I had forgotten about your Service Advisories.

OK, Ben and Jon, thanks for the info.

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Jon March 14, 2014 - 4:08 pm

That stretch actually has a third track that isn’t used in day-to-day operations. It’s mainly used for detouring purposes.

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Anon256 March 14, 2014 - 5:56 pm

The FRA’s myopic policies are the #1 thing holding back passenger rail in America (driving people towards car travel which is vastly less safe). Their criticism of Metro North raises my opinion of Metro North and its management, and I hope the damage done by the FRA’s meddling is kept to a minimum.

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Alon Levy March 15, 2014 - 7:05 am

To say that Metro-North overemphasizes on-time performance is very sad. Metro-North’s on-time performance involves extensive schedule padding, such that an outer New Haven Line that leaves Stamford on time and runs nonstop to Manhattan can arrive 7-10 minutes ahead of schedule. Moreover, at the Spuyten Duyvil accident, the train was not to my knowledge behind schedule, and was not speeding in order to make up time, unlike at other train accidents.

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Nathanael March 18, 2014 - 7:51 pm

Yeah. Given that Metro-North has poor on-time performance even after all of the padding, and can’t dispatch Amtrak trains on time either…

…that line just rings false. If anything, Metro-North underemphasizes on-time performance.

It raises the question of what Metro-North is actually spending its time and energy on.

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Eric March 16, 2014 - 4:30 am

Despite this under-emphasis on safety, you’re probably still much safer taking Metro-North than driving.

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Billy G March 18, 2014 - 9:55 pm

The problem in relation to safety is sleepy overtime abusers.

The answer is: ELIMINATE OVERTIME.

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