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Report: Metro North Accidents Likely Caused by Safety...

Metro North Accidents Likely Cased by Safety Management Problems
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The NTSB has made new recommendations to the MTA.

Metro North is the second largest commuter railway in the country with over 83 million passengers last year. But over the past year, Metro North has had five accidents, resulting in 6 deaths and 126 injuries. Following an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, a report was released on Tuesday about the probable causes of these accidents.

The investigation found that in each case, the accidents were caused by some kind of safety oversight.

"Two accidents over a short period of time on the same railroad may be a coincidence. Five accidents in less than a year begs the question: how important was safety to Metro North?" said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart.

The accidents included the May 2013 derailment and collision in Bridgeport Connecticut, which caused some 76 injuries, and the December 2013 derailment in the Bronx that killed four and injured many others.

Hart said the first could be attributed to lax standards for track inspections. He said Metro North often deferred annual maintenance and did not inspect the rails as carefully as they could due to an exception that applies to high density commuter railways. The NTSB recommended that Metro North and other large commuter railways be held to the same standards for track inspections that other railways are.

Hart said the the December 2013 Bronx derailment was caused because the train engineer going to fast around a curve. It was discovered after the accident this engineer has sleep apnea and feel asleep while driving. Hart said this could have been prevented if Metro North screened for sleep apnea, a condition that many people may not realize they have and can cause disruptions during the day. The NTSB has been making the recommendation to include this screening for at least a decade, and is making the recommendation again.

"Time and again in these investigations we saw regulatory and oversight lapses that the NTSB has warned about before, safe guards that could have prevented harm if they had been implemented. But they never were implemented," Hart said.

All the recommendations the NTSB has made both in light of the accidents and in the past were made not just to Metro North or the MTA, but also to the Federal Railroad Administration. The MTA, which oversees Metro North, has already made some changes. It will implement the sleep apnea screening, has created a plan to improve the quality of rail inspections and has created a new safety chief position which will take effect on December 1. However, Hart said the FRA has not heeded these recommendations yet, which would bring safety changes to railroads across the country.

That's why New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenfeld introduced the Rail Transportation Safety Act, which would make some of the recommendations from the NTSB law even if the FRA chooses not to implement them.

The NTSB will hold a meeting on November 19 to discuss the safety issues that were identified, and issue more safety recommendations.