Metro-North commuter advocate: ‘Get to bottom of safety issues’

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Update 4:30 p.m.:  Dave Hendricks, a member of the newly formed Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said the Bronx derailment heightens the importance of questions about improving safety and reliability on the Metro-North New Haven Line.

The recommendations from the NTSB’s ongoing investigation of the Bridgeport derailment and collision might include major infrastructure work that further slows the pace of travel for commuters who have already chafed at slower trip times this year as a result of track upgrades.

“For commuters safety is paramount and safety is more important than speed,” Hendricks said. “…For commuters to have confidence in getting on a train they have to expect that the rails and everything are in tip top shape and actually exceed standards and not just meet standards.”

In addition, commuters are awaiting substantial answers from the NTSB investigation on what changes can be made to Metro-North’s maintenance protocols to improve safety.

“I can’t speak for the council but I think I speak for all commuters that we need as much investigation into why these accidents have occurred as technically possible,” Hendricks said. “If that means disrupted service for a period of time, so be it. It is more important to get to the bottom of safety issues than to rush back into operation.”


Update 1:12 p.m.:  Plans to furnish alternate service to Hudson Line commuters returning to work after the holiday had not been made yet, Anders said, but those plans would not include directing riders onto New Haven Line trains this week.

The locomotive and several cars involved in the crash were diesel equipment owned by the state of Connecticut, Anders said.

The diesel fleets of Metro-North’s lines are interchangeable she said, and Connecticut-owned diesel equipment serviced in the Croton Harmon yard are sometimes used to furnish Hudson line service.

“You will also see occasionally Hudson blue stripe cars on the New Haven Line,” Anders said.


Update 12:44 p.m.:  The seven-car train that derailed Sunday was traveling on the middle track of a three-track section on a sharp curve where the speed limit is 30 miles per hour, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.

In July, 10 cars of a CSX freight train derailed on a two-track section of the line just south of the site of Sunday’s derailment, suspending service for four days, and requiring the reconstruction of 1,500 feet of track, Anders said.

The area is where the Hudson Line connects to a section of track running along the banks of the Harlem River, Anders said.

Information about the expected impact of the accident on the Monday morning commute for Hudson Line riders was not yet available Sunday afternoon, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.


Update 12:18 p.m.:  U.S. Sen Richard Blumenthal said Sunday that the Bronx, N.Y., derailment illustrates the need for federal transportation investigators to expedite their probe of the Bridgeport collision and issue recommendations to improve New Haven Line equipment and Metro-North safety protocols.

This year, Blumenthal chaired a hearing of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on rail safety that focused on track maintenance issues and the upkeep of equipment.

“Riders are losing patience with this railroad and so am I,” Blumenthal said. “These severe accidents and service disruptions are unacceptable,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said that he continues to press NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman to speed up the investigation of the Bridgeport collision.

“This desperately tragic derailment dramatizes again the need for focus on railroad safety and reliability-adding powerful evidence to recent Connecticut incidents,” Blumenthal said. “Although causes must be determined, Metro-North must confront questions about adequacy of equipment, tracks, and maintenance and repair practices.”


Update 12:00 p.m.:  Metro-North official says the cause of the derailment will not immediately be known until the National Transportation and Safety Board inspectors review the crash scene.

“That is something the NTSB will speak to when they are available and not something we can speculate on,” Metro-North spokesman Arin Donovan said.

A Metro-North derailment on the Hudson Line early Sunday morning killed at least four people and injured more than 60 others, according to railroad officials.

Seven cars of the eight car train derailed on a large curved section of track heading southbound about 100 yards from the Spuyten Duyvil railroad station at about 7:30 a.m., Donovan said at noon Sunday.

Donovan said a team of National Transportation Safety Board inspectors is en route to the scene, and said there was no information on factors that might have caused the derailment.


Update 11:45 a.m.: Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection says to call 718-817-7444 for information on family members who may have been aboard the derailed train in the Bronx. New York City residents can call 311 or 212 639 9675.


Update: 10 a.m.:  The Metro-North train derailment on a curved section of track in the Bronx, N.Y., near Spuyten Duyvil station has left four confirmed dead and at least 67 injured, according to FDNY spokesman Michael Parella.

The accident has not impacted New Haven Line service, though the Hudson Line passengers traveling south of Tarrytown are being shuttled to the Harlem Line at White Plains,N.Y., according to the railroad.

More than 130 firefighters have responded to the accident in which five of the seven cars of a southbound train that originated in Poughkeepsie derailed just north of the Spuyten Duyvil Station.

Metro-North has suspended Hudson Line service south of Tarrytown and put in place a shuttle service from that station to White Plains, N.Y. that is expected to be running by mid morning.

The accident follows nearly half a year of incidents on the New Haven Line that has sparked questions about the safety of the 70-mile line starting with after a similar incident in Bridgeport where an eight car east bound train derailed and sideswiped another heading in the opposite direction,injuring 76 people. About 500 people in total were on both trains. The accident caused $18.5 million in costs to repair the 2,000 yard section of track and shut down the Northeast corridor for five days.

At an National Transportation Safety Board hearing in Washington,D.C. last month, Metro-North Engineer Robert Puciloski admitted that the five year cycle of replacement and maintenance on the section of the Bridgeport track had not been fully completed since 2005.

Two weeks later on May 28, Robert Luden, a Metro-North foreman, was struck and killed by a Metro-North passenger train traveling 70 mph after a student controller reopened the track where he was working without the approval of his senior supervisor.

Luden had requested the section of track be taken out of service for maintenance.

The New Haven Line was crippled yet again on Sept. 24 by a power outage after a power substation in Mount Vernon,N.Y. failed severely limiting electric train service for 13 days.

The NTSB investigation of the derailment of the train in Bridgeport has focused heavily on a piece of track near the crash where a cracked rail joint was repaired a month before the rail crash.

An inspection report from Metro-North track crews checking the New Haven Line two days before the Bridgeport derailment described weak ballast, erosion, problems with ties, unstable rails, and loose embankments in the area where the two trains collided.

This fall riders on the New Haven Line have dealt with slower trains and longer trip times after an ongoing track and tie replacement project in the Bronx,N.Y. that was originally scheduled for completion on Labor day was expanded after an outside company hired to inspect the New Haven Line’s tracks in the wake of the Bridgeport derailment found more serious deterioriation in the tracks, ties, and underlying foundation, extending the project into November.


Original post: The Metro-North derailment in the Bronx does not appear to have an effect on the New Haven line, thus far. Follow our coverage on our traffic and transit blog, BlogJam.

Our transportation reporter Martin Cassidy is working the story. We’ll of course be asking whether this could happen here in Connecticut too.

Television news reports are saying up to four dead and 48 injured.