On December 1, 2013, a Metro-North train derailment from Poughkeepsie, New York, to Grand Central Terminal in New York City occurred as it approached a sharp bend in the Bronx, while the train was hurtling at 82 mph, far over the speed limit of 30 mph. The cars tumbled off the track, killing four passengers and leaving dozens more hospitalized. The tragic accident is one of four accidents that occurred on the railroad in 2013.

Derailment Prompts FRA Assessment and Report

The derailment prompted an intensive 60-day comprehensive safety assessment of Metro-North Commuter Railroad by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). On March 14, 2014, the FRA announced its findings and recommendations.

The assessment, known as Operation Deep Dive, found that Metro-North’s management emphasizes on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and adequate maintenance of its infrastructure, resulting in a deficient safety culture, increased risk and reduced safety on the Metro-North system.

The report stated that the rail line has a “deficient safety culture” and overemphasizes on-time performance, so that:

  • Metro-North employees have reported feeling pressure to rush when responding to technical issues or needing more time to make necessary track repairs.
  • Currently no single department or office including the Safety Department proactively advocates for safety at the railroad.
  • There is no effort to identify or take accountability for safety concerns.

FRA Gives Metro-North 60 Days to Submit Plan

The report requires Metro-North to submit plans to FRA within 60-days on how it will improve the effectiveness of its Safety Department and training programs, and instructs Metro-North to take the following actions to mitigate risk and to begin a turnaround of the railroad’s safety culture:

  • Effective immediately Metro-North’s senior leadership must put safety front and center and communicate and implement that priority throughout its organization.
  • Within 60 days Metro-North shall submit to FRA a plan to improve its Safety Department’s mission and effectiveness including providing appropriate in-person monitoring of field activities and personnel.
  • Within 60 days Metro-North shall submit to FRA a plan to improve its employee training ensuring that it develops and implements an effective training program for all operating departments.

“Safety is and must always be a railroad’s number one priority,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “It is essential that Metro-North ensure a safety culture that clearly prioritizes safety first – the traveling public deserves no less.”