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Railroad Installs Safety Measures after Bronx Derailment

After a Metro-north commuter train derailed in the Bronx, the Metropolitan Transit Authority installed an automatic safety braking system on the Spuyton Duyvil Station curve, the site of the derailment. The Dec. 1 public transit accident killed four passengers and injured nearly a dozen others.

The new system was in place and operating by December 10, according to an MTA news release.

The authority, which controls public transportation in New York, plans to install safety systems on all four of the other critical curves along the line and the five moveable bridges on the New Haven line. These systems will warn engineers to slow down as they approach significant speed changes along the tracks, and will automatically apply emergency brakes if the engineers fail to slow down to the 30 mph maximum speed in the curve.

The improvements are part of an agreement between Metro-North and the Connecticut Department of Transportation. They were ordered in the wake of the derailment.

The other curve protections will be installed by March 2014 on the Hudson Line at Yonkers, the Harlem Line at White Plains, and on the New Haven Line at Port Chester and Bridgeport. The five moveable bridges on the New Haven Line will receive the safety improvements by September 2014.

The MTA news release quoted Thomas F. Prendergast, the authority’s chairman and CEO, as saying he expected the rail system would continue seeking safety improvements and work to restore the confidence of riders.

The MTA has a legal duty to provide safe transportation for the millions of New Yorkers who rely upon it. People need to have confidence that the subways, trains and buses that they are riding are safe. People who are injured in train accidents have a right to compensation.

Metro-North has surveyed its tracks and will reduce the maximum authorized speed at 26 locations so speed limits will no longer drop by more than 20 mph.

Signs posted along the right-of-way will alert engineers of reductions in maximum authorized speed at the four curves.

At the site of the fatal derailment, track speeds dropped dramatically from 70 mph to 30 mph.

The commuter train’s engineer reported he zoned out momentarily as he approached the curve, and when he came out of daze, it was too late to slow down. He was alone at the train’s controls when the derailment occurred.

In addition to the new automatic braking system, the MTA has enhanced communication between train engineers and conductors, and ensured engineers will no longer be alone at the controls when approaching speed-restricted curves. Conductors will stand with engineers through the curves and at the moveable bridges to confirm the train is complying with speed limits.

Currently, two-thirds of Metro-North’s operating fleet is equipped with alerter devices in the engineer’s position to ensure engineers are paying attention, and the remaining one-third is equipped with dead man’s controls. Next year, all equipment without alerters will be retrofitted to include them or they will be replaced with new equipment that includes alerters.

Metro-North has also responded to a Federal Railroad Administration directive and has committed to implementing a confidential reporting system, a measure allowing employees to anonymously report safety concerns without fear of reprisal. This measure is in place to identify potential problems before they can cause an accident or injury.

Additionally, Metro-North has conducted safety sessions for 4,500 employees at more than 80 locations, emphasizing that all employees must operate and communicate effectively with safety as the ultimate goal.

The safety programs will be conducted every quarter in the future.

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