Federal railroad report slams Metro-North safety record

Emphasis on making schedule, regardless of safety. Rampant cell phone usage on the job. Inadequate training of track workers.

These are just some of the concerns cited in a Federal Railroad Administration report on Friday that ripped Metro-North for emphasizing speed over safety.

The Federal Railroad Administration launched Operation Deep Dive after the December 1, 2013 derailment that killed four. The result of the investigation yielded Friday’s report, which says it is intended as an “urgent call to action to Metro-North’s leadership.” The report calls for Metro-North to submit a plan within 60 days to improve safety at Metro-North.

In a news conference after the report’s release, Metro-North president Joseph Giulietti called the report “deeply troubling,” and he said that safety “will be” a priority at Metro-North. Giulietti called the lack of safety a “problem with the culture” at Metro-North.”

“I take seriously each and every one of the report’s observations, recommendations, and mandates,” Giulietti said, according to a transcript of the news conference.

Metro-North, the nation’s second-largest commuter railway system, needs to improve the overall track inspection process and its the recordkeeping system for signal standards (despite having “extensive and detailed” standards), the report says. Additionally, most of the engineers are operating on less than three years experience, according to the report.

One of the biggest safety concerns outlined is the “overemphasis of on-time culture,” the report said. “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,” the report says.

The largest problem, according to the report, is the “deficient safety culture” within Metro-North. “Numerous, easily detectable safety issues exist across multiple disciplines that should have been discovered by the Metro-North management, including the fact that Metro-North employees were not wearing personal protective equipment,” the report says.

In 2013 alone, there were four major accidents, with the worst occurring on December 1. After that derailment, the Federal Railroad Administration required Metro-North to take immediate action on modifying its signal system, identifying and prioritizing high-risk areas, and requiring more engagement and communication between crew members. Additionally, the FRA urged Metro-North to provide additional training for workers. After those urgent recommendations, the FRA launched Operation Deep Dive.