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Blumenthal Calls For Metro-North Safety Overhaul, Reveals $552,000 In Safety Fines Over Last Decade

Blumenthal Calls For Metro-North Safety Overhaul, Reveals $552,000 In Safety Fines Over Last Decade
Posted by Paula Antolini
(10th UPDATE in Metro-North Series)

Just released today - Friday, April 18, 2014 -
Blumenthal Reiterates Call For Safety Overhaul At Metro-North After Revealing $552,000 In Safety Violation Fines Over Last Decade

(Hartford, CT) –U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today released data on $552,000 in fines incurred by Metro-North over the past decade for safety violations and defects, a shameful record underscoring the urgent need for immediate attention to safety and reliability at the railroad.

“The sheer number of violations is staggering—139 violations totaling $552,000 in fines since 2004--encompassing serious lapses in safety standards and procedures.  While not every reported defect is a serious safety threat, the magnitude of violations is deeply troubling. Per 100 miles of track, Metro-North had five times the number of safety defects than any other commuter railroad in the country, a truly shameful record,” Blumenthal said. “The pertinence and practical importance of these defects is staggeringly clear. One of the most serious failings – broken or cracked joint bars, loose rail braces and missing bolts – almost certainly caused the Bridgeport derailment and collision, which resulted in more than 70 injuries and paralyzed the regional economy. Lack of proper safety training and procedures also contributed to the senseless, tragic death of a Metro-North worker Robert Luden in West Haven. Simply put, these safety failings have had tragic and catastrophic consequences.”

“These fines are shocking in sheer frequency, but what is frankly incomprehensible and unacceptable is the Federal Railroad Administration’s inexplicable failure to do its job and demand changes and improvements as these defects and fines mounted,” Blumenthal said. “In many cases, these fines were inadequate slaps on the wrist—including $5,000 for the glaring safety lapses that resulted in the death of Metro-North worker Robert Luden on May 28 last year. A worker was killed needlessly, and the penalty was a shameful pittance. The purpose of a fine is to change behavior, and that clearly hasn’t happened here. If the law needs to be toughened, let’s do it,” Blumenthal said.
 
The data was provided to Blumenthal by the Federal Railroad Administration in response to a letter sent by the Senator to FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo following a Connecticut Post investigation that revealed 7,100 safety defects at the railroad over the past decade.
 
Violations Data
 
From 2004 to present day, the FRA has issued a total of 139 violations, with additional violations expected for 2013 and 2014.  
 
Violations by year
 
    •    2004: 5
    •    2005: 1
    •    2006: 2
    •    2007: 2
    •    2008: 28*
    •    2009: 38
    •    2010: 16
    •    2011: 22
    •    2012: 10
    •    2013: 14 **
    •    2014: 1 **
 
 *Why the spike in violations starting in 2008? The FRA said they performed a random top-to-bottom record audit during this time period. This audit found significantly more violations during this comprehensive audit.
 
**Additional fines expected
 
Violations by type
 
Of the 139 violations from 2004 to present day:

    •    60 or 43% are accident reporting violations (totaling $152,000 in fines);
    •    11 or 8% are alcohol and drug violations (totaling $34,000 in fines);
    •    27 or 19% are Passenger Equipment Safety Standards violations (totaling $155,000 in fines);
    •    14 or 10% are for Railroad Operating Practices violations (totaling $110,000 in fines);
    •    3 or 2% are for Roadway Worker Protection violations (totaling $10,000 in fines);
    •    5 or 4% are for Track Safety Standards violations (totaling $25,000 in fines).
 
Violation Definitions
 
Accident reporting violations:
MNR did not adhere to FRA guidelines in the content of the accident report, or they could have been late in sending the accident report to the FRA.
 
Alcohol and drug violations:
These violations regard the rate of random drug testing rate. The minimum annual rate for random drug testing must be 50 percent of covered employees. The railroad must ensure an equal statistical chance of being selected for each employee.
 
Passenger Equipment Safety Standards violations:
These violations regard brake tests for commuter passenger trains which are required once each calendar year. More rigorous and frequent tests are required for long-distance intercity passenger trains. This code sets out specific requirements for the brake test including who must conduct the test and in what manner.
 
Railroad Operating Practices violations:
These violations regard alternative methods to blue safety signal protection for workers. There must be blue signals at or near each switch providing entrance to or departure from the area.
 
Roadway Worker Protection violations:
These violations regard requirements that roadway workers on any track outside of working limits be given warning of approaching trains by one or more watchmen/lookouts in accordance with specific provisions.
 
Track Safety Standards violations:
These violations regard gage of track geometry, layouts, design measurements and maintenance of tracks.  
 
“The FRA had the data. They saw the spike in violations. They saw the trend right before their eyes. And yet, not until 2013 – over five years after the initial spike in violations – did the FRA step up its enforcement. That is inexcusable,” Blumenthal said.
 
Last month, the FRA issued its Operation Deep Dive Report into Metro-North’s operations, commissioned by Congress following the spate of major accidents at Metro-North over the past year. The report was a searing indictment of the leadership at Metro-North, revealing a culture that emphasized on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and adequate maintenance of infrastructure.
 
“The takeaway from the Deep Dive report was not that Metro-North cares too much about on-time performance; it cared too little about safety. It can and should do both. A year after the Bridgeport derailment, many of the remedies that I have recommended repeatedly, consistently and constantly still have yet to be adopted, including Confidential Close Call Reporting, modern inspection technology, and adequate track controls to protect workers. This data on fines and defects underscores the immediate need for action. As Chairman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee, I will be holding hearings to impose accountability and restore safety and reliability to this vital public transportation resource,” Blumenthal said.







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