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Metro-North adds enhanceed signal system and adjusts crews after emergency order

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NEW YORK (PIX11) — Metro-North announced improvements at critical curves and bridges throughout the system in response to the fatal derailment and an order from the Federal Railroad Administration and New York Governor Cuomo.

In a release, the MTA said the new signals at the Spuyten Duyvil curve, the site of last week’s fatal derailment and well-known as one of the sharpest turns along any line, 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.

By Tuesday morning, 4 other critical curves and 5 moveable bridges will also have increased monitoring and signaling. “Conductors will stand with engineers at each train’s control cab through the critical curves to verbally confirm that speed limits are adhered to,” the MTA said in a statement. If necessary, they will communicate by radio.

The MTA says the 4 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 5 movable bridges are on the New Haven Line.

Metro-North is reducing the maximum authorized speed at 26 locations. This will eliminate all locations where the speed limit drops by more than 20 mph, the railroad says. Signs along the right-of-way will alert engineers of reductions in maximum authorized speed at the four curves by December 16.

The changes came via an emergency order Friday from the feds and the governor. They mandated that the railroad must have two-man crews in areas with “major speed restrictions” among other immediate changes.

Two qualified train crew members will staff the the controlling locomotive cab or passenger car control compartment at the locations where speed limits change by 20 mph or more until the signal work at these locations is complete, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said in the order.

Metro-North is ordered “to take specific, immediate steps to ensure its train crews do not exceed speed limitations. The EO requires Metro-North to modify its existing signal system to ensure speed limits are obeyed and to provide two qualified railroad employees to operate trains where major speed restrictions are in place until the signal system is updated.”

“Safety is our highest priority, and we must do everything we can to learn from this tragic crash and help prevent future derailments,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “While we assist the National Transportation Safety Board in carrying out its investigation, this Emergency Order will help ensure that other Metro-North trains travel at appropriate, safe speeds.”

Metro-North has to give the FRA a list of main track locations where there is a reduction of more than 20 mph in the maximum authorized passenger train speed by December 10, 2013 and must identify “appropriate modifications to its existing automatic train control system or other signal systems to enable adequate advance warning of and adherence to such speed restrictions.”

The speed limit at Spuyten Duvil in the Bronx drops from 70 mph to 30 mph at the curve where the Metro-North train derailed on Sunday, killing four passengers and injuring dozens. The train was going 82 mph when it derailed.  The engineer had apparently “nodded off” before the accident.

Positive train control technology and safety briefings could prevent train disasters

The federal government believes these modifications “will help prevent another over-the-speed-limit event if a locomotive engineer fails to take actions to appropriately slow or stop a passenger train,” according to a news release.

The FRA and U.S. Department of Transportation set regulations and requirements for railroads. This regulation is more than the current standard the government has required. This announcement is a mandatory directive to the railroad. The feds also plan additional safety investigations.

“Why only Metro-North?” asks Dr. Steven Harrod, an assistant professor at the University of Dayton. He teaches and researches transportation issues. “There are lots of railroads with similar conditions in the U.S. What about Jersey Transit? MBTA? SEPTA?”

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Metro-North has to give an action plan to the federal government by December 31, including target dates for adding new signals system modifications.

“Last year was the safest on record for our nation’s rail industry,” said FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo.  “Even with a 43percent decline in train accidents nation-wide over the past decade, we must remain steadfast and vigilant to ensure passengers and employees are safe.  The public deserves better and our mission is to drive continuous safety improvement.”

Metro-North issued a statement saying it has been working with the U.S. Department of Transportation. “We will of course comply with whatever requirements the FRA directs us to follow. We are examining many other possible steps we can take to improve the safety of our railroad operations, and will continue making every effort to enhance customer and employee safety,” a Metro-North spokesperson said.

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