Top officials at MTA and Metro-North make their most extensive comments on the commuter line's fatal derailment earlier this month. Jose Martinez filed the following report.
Until the fatal crash on December 1, trains traveled along the sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil Metro-North station without incident 1.7 million times over the past 30 years, according to the MTA.
Now, in the wake of the derailment that killed four and injured more than 70, officials say they've stepped up safety on the curve by modifying signal systems, while vowing to fix the troubled railroad's reputation.
"You do a lot of soul searching in terms of what could you do to prevent a recurrence from happening. Because you go back to the impact on human lives,” said Tom Prendergast, MTA Chairman and CEO.
On Monday, the agency gave an update on safety improvements made immediately after the accident and on the way, even as the federal railroad administration began a 60-day review of Metro-North operations.
"We have a responsibility to the public, to our employees and the people in the region to assure them that we're operating safe systems,” said Prendergast.
A system that can slow a speeding train has already been added at the Spuyten Duyvil curve and will soon be at four other potential trouble spots.
Beeping operator alerters are being installed in more than 300 cabs that didn't have them, which are quick fixes that already exist on parts of the Long Island Railroad, raising questions as to why they weren't already in place on Metro-North.
A longer term project is installing Positive Train Control, a federally-mandated safety system that can slow or stop a train anywhere along the line.
"I'm going to make sure it's a priority in the organization,” said Prendergast.
To help speed the process, the MTA says it's adding a billion dollars to an existing $2.2 billion federal loan application. But officials say the human factor has to be considered, too.
"This does not in any way take away the responsibility for the engineer to know the operating speeds along their routes,” said Metro-North president Howard Permut.
Conductor William Rockfeller has told investigators he lost his focus as the train whipped into the 30-mile-per hour curve at 82 miles per hour.