It’s been a rough 12 months for Metro-North. Headlined by December’s fatal derailment near Spuyten Duyvil, the commuter railroad faced power problems over this fall and a series of high-profile collisions and derailments earlier in 2013. Now, according to a report in The Times, Metro-North President Howard Permut will step down at the end of January after nearly six years on the job.
It’s unclear from initial reports if Permut’s resignation is related to the safety issues. I think it’s safe to assume the recent spate of problem is at least partially responsible for the move. For now, neither anyone at the MTA nor Permut himself has issued a statement, but Matt Flegenheimer has this report:
Mr. Permut announced his retirement to staff members at a meeting late Monday afternoon, a transit official said. The official said that Mr. Permut is expected to be replaced by Joseph Giulietti, the executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, and that Mr. Permut intends to stay until the end of January to help with the transition…A member of Metro-North’s original team in 1983, the year the railroad was brought under the auspices of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Mr. Permut became president in 2008, steering the railroad as it burnished a reputation as one of the region’s most reliable commuter systems.
But last year seemed to deliver one nightmare after the next, prompting concerns from riders and attracting the glare of federal investigators. In May, a train collision on the New Haven line injured scores of passengers. Less than two weeks later, a track foreman in West Haven, Conn., was struck and killed after a trainee rail controller opened a section of track without proper clearance. Other episodes included the disruption of service on the Hudson line in July after the derailment of a freight train in Spuyten Duyvil and a series of problems on the New Haven line in September after the failure of a Consolidated Edison feeder cable.
But it was the crash on Dec. 1 that was particularly devastating. Four people were killed and more than 70 were injured when a Hudson line train hurtled off the tracks early on a Sunday morning just north of Spuyten Duyvil station. The train’s operator became dazed at the controls, according to his lawyer. Metro-North had never before suffered any accident-related passenger deaths. The derailment focused attention on safety features that had been missing from Metro-North, including a system to enforce speed limits around sharp curves like the one at Spuyten Duyvil.
The dots, I’d say, are firmly connected here, but I’ll have more once the MTA comments.
Meanwhile, as Permut exits on a down note, his legacy at the railroad should be a better one than that. As The Times noted, he was involved in the formation of Metro-North out of the Conrail entity in 1983 and had led efforts that resulted in record ridership and, until recently, record reliability for Metro-North. He helped streamline scheduling, marketing and advertising for the railroad, and for better or worse, he oversaw an initiatives to better utilize parking spaces and connecting services.
When Permut was named President, he noted that safety was a major focuses. While ridership has hit record highs throughout his tenure, he leaves on a down-note with regard to safety and reliability. Joseph Giulietti, who spent over 20 years with Conrail and Metro-North, will have to clean up while overseeing the positive train control installation and retaining and attracting riders. It’s not an easy job right now.