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New Metro North Safety Measures on 'Critical Curves'

Spuyten Duyvil signal changes are the beginning.

Metro-North Signal Department workers consult circuit diagrams, make signal changes and test the system at Spuyten Duyvil. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / J. P. Chan.
Metro-North Signal Department workers consult circuit diagrams, make signal changes and test the system at Spuyten Duyvil. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / J. P. Chan.
New protections are in place at the Spuyten Duyvil curve, Metropolitan Transit Authority officials say. Protections at four other critical curves on Metro North commuter lines are on the way.

The curve at the confluence of the Hudson and Harlem rivers was the site of last week's fatal derailment on Metro North's Hudson Line. 

The new signal will warn train engineers of the area requiring slower speeds is approaching. It will also automatically apply the train's emergency brakes if speed is not lowered to the 30 mph maximum in the curve.

By the time tomorrow morning's commute starts, at four other "critical curves" —at Yonkers on the Hudson Line, White Plains on the Harlem Line, and Port Chester and Bridgeport on the New Haven Line—conductors will be standing with engineers at each train's control cab or communicating by radio and verbally confirming that the train is moving at the speed limit.

In addition, the MTA reports, Metro-North will reduce the maximum authorized speed at 26 locations to eliminate every place where the speed limit drops by more than 20 mph. Signs will be posted along the right-of-way by Dec. 16.

These steps are part of the MTA's response to the Federal Safety Administration's emergency order  and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's call to expedite safety upgrades, both issued Dec. 6.

"...we must take this moment to pause and explore what new measures can be implemented by the MTA to make Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road the safest rail system in the world. New York’s commuters deserve nothing less," Cuomo said.

Here's the full text of the MTA's statement: 

MTA Metro-North Railroad is making immediate improvements to reinforce safety at critical curves and movable bridges along the railroad's right-of-way. These improvements were directed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in a letter to the MTA and by an emergency order from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

“Metro-North is taking important steps to improve safety for its customers and employees, and I expect the railroad will continue searching for ways to improve its operations and fully restore its commuters' confidence,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast.

These improvements were made as part of an agreement reached between Metro-North and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT).

Signal crews have installed new protections at the Spuyten Duyvil curve, the site of last week's fatal derailment, which will warn train engineers of the approaching speed reduction and will automatically apply the train's emergency brakes if speed is not lowered to the 30 mph maximum in the curve. (Photos of this work are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtaphotos/sets/72157638485865565 ). The signal improvement at Spuyten Duyvil was done simultaneously and in coordination with work to restore track, power and signal systems there after the derailment. Those protections will be operating on all trains by Monday morning.

By Tuesday morning, all Metro-North trains will enhance communication between train engineers and conductors to ensure trains are operated at safe speeds at four other critical curves as well as at five movable bridges. Conductors will stand with engineers at each train's control cab through the critical curves to verbally confirm that speed limits are adhered to. Where the train layout prohibits the conductor from reaching the engineer in a locomotive, they will communicate by radio. They will also communicate by radio at the five movable bridges.

Metro-North engineers are developing new signal protections to automatically enforce speed restrictions at the other four critical curves by March, and at the five movable bridges by September. The four critical curves are at Yonkers on the Hudson Line, White Plains on the Harlem Line, and Port Chester and Bridgeport on the New Haven Line. All five movable bridges are on the New Haven Line.

Metro-North has also surveyed its tracks and will reduce the maximum authorized speed at 26 locations in order to eliminate all locations where the speed limit drops by more than 20 mph. Signs will be posted along the right-of-way to alert engineers of reductions in maximum authorized speed at the four curves by December 16.

In addition, Metro-North has committed to enhance its monitoring of compliance with speed restrictions. This monitoring is accomplished by reviewing the event data recorders from randomly selected trains, by sending supervisors to ride trains and observe speeds, and by operating radar gun enforcement at locations throughout the Metro-North network.

“These actions, combined with investments in the infrastructure and a hightened focus on safety with all employees, are critical to ensure the confidence and trust of all of the stakeholders in the Metro-North rail system. It is our expectation that Metro-North will continue to make safety and reliability their primary focus and demonstrate this through regular and transparent actions and communications,” said ConnDOT Commissioner James Redeker.

Two-thirds of Metro-North's operating fleet is equipped with alerter devices in the engineer's position to ensure engineers remain attentive, and the remaining one-third is equipped with dead man's controls. Within the next year, all equipment without alerters will be either retrofitted to include them or replaced with new equipment that includes alerters.

At the FRA's direction, Metro-North has also committed to implementing a confidential close call reporting system, a measure which will allow employees to anonymously report safety concerns without fear of reprisal in order to identify potential problems before they can cause an accident or injury.

Additionally, Metro-North has conducted safety stand-downs for 4,500 employees in over 200 sessions at more than 80 locations. These sessions emphasized to all employees that safety is the most important factor in railroad operations and that all employees must operate and communicate effectively with safety as the ultimate goal. These safety stand-downs will be conducted every quarter in the future.

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