Blumenthal Demands Safety Plan from Metro-North Following Rye Derailment

Warm Weather Caused Rails to Warp

(Hartford, CT) – Following reports that warm weather last week may have caused a rail “heat kink” and contributed to the derailment of a Metro-North train in Rye, New York, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today wrote to Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti to demand action to address the risk that will only intensify as temperatures continue to warm.

Metro-North was reportedly aware of a warp in the tracks caused by last week’s warm temperatures and had advised train operators to lower speeds in the area to ten miles per hour. The train was reportedly traveling around 50 miles per hour when it derailed. Positive Train Control technology could have automatically slowed the train and prevented the accident that left several passengers injured.

Despite the railroad’s knowledge of the heat kink and the imposition of tougher speed limits, the train flew down the tracks anyway.  Clearly, effective operational management broke down.  Moreover, Positive Train Control technology – which prevents human error from allowing trains to speed – was absent on the track.  That allowed the train to speed unchecked, which caused a near-calamity to occur, Blumenthal wrote.

In his letter, Blumenthal demands that Metro-North explain how it is managing and minimizing the foreseeable risk of heat kinks, which will only grow in intensity as temperatures warm. Second, he seeks answers to how Metro-North is reforming its operations to ensure that trains do not speed. Third, he asks that Metro-North confirm that it will meet its implementation deadline for Positive Train Control technology.

Blumenthal has repeatedly urged Metro-North to end its delays and confirm that they will meet a December 2018 deadline to install the system. PTC technology would have prevented four Metro-North passengers from dying at Spuyten Duyvil in December 2013, and more than 300 other deaths nationwide since 1970 when the National Transportation Safety Board first urged railroads to implement it. Despite the technology’s long, proven track record, PTC is operational nowhere on Metro-North’s 384 miles of track, and according to a report earlier this year, the railroad has made little progress over the past year towards installing the system.

PTC is a life-saving technology first urged by the National Transportation Safety Board in 1970 after a tragic train collision in Darien, Connecticut. PTC is a GPS-based system designed to prevent certain types of train accidents caused by human factors. Since it was first recommended, the absence of PTC has been linked to the deaths of hundreds and the injuries of thousands. In 2008, Congress finally mandated railroads install PTC by the end of 2015; however, Congress extended the deadline to 2020 last year. Blumenthal has fought vigorously to ensure railroads implement PTC immediately and has fought against irresponsible efforts to extend the deadline. 

Full text of the letter is copied below.

 

Dear Mr. Giulietti:

Last week, a Metro-North train travelling near Rye just outside Connecticut jumped off the rails. The train was reportedly travelling at five times the speed on that section of track – around 50 miles per hour in a ten-mile-per hour zone.  Fortunately, no one was killed, but at least a dozen passengers were reportedly treated for injuries, with four taken to the hospital.  The derailment led to delays that rippled throughout the New Haven Line, causing congestion and hours-long headaches that lasted throughout the evening commute.  Metro-North simply deemed this “a slow-speed, minor derailment.”  Obviously, it was anything but “slow-speed” or “minor” – it was an ominous red flag that raises serious concerns about whether Metro-North has improved its safety culture after a host of tragedies engulfed the railroad in recent years, resulting in several deaths and dozens of injuries that have shaken commuters’ confidence to the core.  I write to know what actions Metro-North is taking in response to this latest incident and ask for your confirmation that Metro-North is on target to meet the 2018 deadline for implementation of Positive Train Control technology.

In the days since the derailment, reports have indicated that warm weather caused a “heat kink” on the rails, possibly causing them to slightly warp, making high-speed train travel treacherous in that section of track.  Metro-North was apparently aware of this risk and severely lowered the speed limit to ten miles per hour.  Despite the railroad’s knowledge of the heat kink and the imposition of tougher speed limits, the train flew down the tracks anyway.  Clearly, effective operational management broke down.  Moreover, Positive Train Control technology – which prevents human error from allowing trains to speed – was absent on the track.  That allowed the train to speed unchecked, which caused a near-calamity to occur.  Accordingly, please provide answers to the following questions.

First, please explain how Metro-North is managing and minimizing the common, foreseeable risk of heat kinks. As we mark Memorial Day and the official beginning of summer, the risks of heat-related issues will only intensify.

Second, please explain how Metro-North is reforming its operations and management in response to this incident, including ensuring that trains go no faster than safe, authorized speeds.

Finally, please confirm that Metro-North will meet the implementation deadline for PTC technology.  This is a proven, life-saving system that prevents human error from allowing trains to speed and could have saved hundreds of lives in recent years – including four who died on Metro-North at Spuyten Duyvil in 2013.  Congress set a deadline of December 31, 2018 for its implementation, but reports just yesterday questioned the readiness of commuter railroads to implement the technology by the end of next year.  Last week’s Rye derailment is yet another reminder of the urgent need to complete its installation – without delay and without excuse.

I appreciate your prompt response to this letter.