Sunday, December 21, 2014

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Metro-North Priorities Threaten Rider Safety, Feds Say

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A blistering new report slams Metro-North's safety standards in the wake of the commuter railroad's worst year yet. NY1's Jose Martinez filed the following report.

They pushed to run the trains on time, but at what cost?

With Metro-North's miseries in the last nine months, including a deadly Bronx derailment, a train collision in Connecticut and two workers killed on the job, a new report blasts the railroad's shoddy recent record.

"Clearly, our findings are an indication of what can happen when you get complacent and you take your eye off the ball," said Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

The December derailment killed four and injured more than 70. Just this past Monday, a worker was hit and killed by a train while on the tracks in Harlem.

The Federal Railroad Administration's "Operation Deep Dive" said that Metro-North sacrificed safety in favor of pushing trains to run on time.

"Those are an important part of operations, but never, ever can they come at the expense of safety," Szabo said.

The report found that track inspectors were poorly trained, that workers were rushed when responding to signal failures and that safety meetings were poorly attended. It also flagged the railroad for what it called "common and accepted use" of cellphones by track maintenance workers, and for poor track maintenance. It was all part of what the report calls a "deficient safety culture."

"When the safety department does not advocate for safety, why is it there? Unbelievable," said Sen. Charles Schumer. "They had their values upside down and backwards at Metro-North."

Joseph Giulietti, Metro-North's new boss, said that the railroad is pushing to restore its reputation.

"The first answer always has to be that it's safe. It's safe for the passengers, it's safe for the employees," Giuletti said. "And at some point, this culture turned into one of, 'How many trains can we get in there?'"

Meanwhile, the railroad racked up record ridership last year, more than 83 million passengers.

For all the criticism leveled at Metro-North in the report, many riders NY1 spoke with said that they haven't lost faith in the country's second-largest commuter railroad."

"For the most part, I feel all right, I feel safe," said one rider.

"If the report had come back and said, 'No, it's all great,' I would have been like, 'Alright.' That would have fit my experience," said another.

That's clearly not universal.

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