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Metro-North installs new safety officer

Published 4:28 pm, Tuesday, February 25, 2014
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Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti said creating a new chief executive for safety for the railway is a step toward restoring safe and reliable service for the railroad's frustrated customers.

"Safety needs to be a function in and of itself," Giulietti said, "safety for our crews, safety for our passengers and ourselves going forward."

Giulietti, who started work two weeks ago as president of the railroad, spoke to reporters for several minutes after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Metro-North Railroad subcommittee board meeting to tout the worker-safety initiatives. He said the new executive would keep tabs on where safety procedures and routines at the railroad are falling short. However, he did not discuss whether the new position and burgeoning effort implied lax safety and management contributed to two derailments in 2013 that injured dozens, the death of a Metro-North foreman and other calamities over the past year on the New Haven Line.

Giulietti said he wasn't ready to discuss specifics about whether he foresaw new safety checks addressing the condition of critical safety staff like engineers who drive trains and other measures to curb worker injuries or address potential gaps in equipment maintenance.

William Rockefeller, the driver of the train that derailed in the Bronx on Dec. 1 killing four people allegedly lapsed into a "daze," though federal investigators have not confirmed Rockefeller's inattention as a factor in the disaster.

"Quick answers you're not going to get," Giulietti said. "The problem with quick answers and solutions is they haven't been analyzed and you don't know what you've missed."

The Federal Railroad Administration is conducting a two-month review of Metro-North's safety and operating procedures that could measure the relative lack of vigilance in Metro-North's management and safety culture.

"Can we leave it that everything I say is going to be focused on the future going forward," Giulietti said. "There is going to be a lot of analysis of what happened in the past, not only from our own investigation, but from the FRA and the National Transportation Safety Board."

At the meeting, Giulietti told the Metro-North committee that Anne Kirsch, who has previously served as the railroad's chief safety and security officer, would assume the new chief safety officer post.

One of Kirsch's first moves was to install new computer software requiring redundant confirmations between track workers and rail traffic controllers when opening and closing stretches of track, something that may have prevented the death of a rail foreman in West Haven in May.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended the railroad institute new safeguards to correct "inadequate" protection for railway workers.

Under the new system, a rail traffic controller would transmit a random code to a rail foreman that would need to be sent back to the controller before a piece of closed track could be reopened to trains.

The railroad is also working to update its safety rule book by the end of the first quarter of 2014, a comprehensive set of rules for every position at the railroad as well as emergency management procedures, Kirsch said.

A separate System Safety Program Plan originally developed with the American Public Transportation Association meant to further define roles of different railroad personnel to maintain safety is also being revised, Kirsch said.

The railroad is also establishing a new separate Incident Investigation Team within the railroad to investigate major accidents in hopes of generating a more impartial and incisive review of the circumstances of accidents and other mishaps than operational departments might.

"We'll be developing root causes and analyzing trends for incidents and tracking recommendations that come out of incidents and ensure they are implemented throughout the organization," Kirsch said.

The railroad also has upgraded its employee accident and injury database to take in more variables such as a worker's years of experience, qualifications to perform a task, time of day and other pertinent factors like weather, supervisory involvement and overtime when a worker is hurt to identify if safety rules are falling short of protecting workers and assuring good performance, Kirsch said.

"Rather than just tracking slips, trips and falls, and time of day and location, we'll capture a lot more information about the individual," Kirsch said.

Giulietti said he couldn't offer New Haven Line customers a timeline for when the railroad would catch up with a list of track-maintenance projects identified by a more rigorous track inspection regimen adopted in the wake of the Bridgeport derailment and collision with another train.

The railroad is assessing the condition of the New Haven Line's tracks and other equipment in preparation of a May schedule change geared toward providing a more predictable timetable.

"The customers are right that the on-time performance is not what it should expect or are used to," Giulietti said. "But I can't make the on-time performance the most critical. And I have to say safety is No. 1. On-time performance will come back, but the first priority is that everything is safe, and everyone is getting there safe."

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who met with Giulietti last week to discuss ways to improve safety and reliability, said in a statement Monday he hoped Kirsch's new safety-only role will produce necessary policy and procedure changes, and called the new post an overdue addition.

"What matters is whether this person has the power and support to make sweeping changes in the way the railroad is run to achieve real results in safety and reliability," Blumenthal said. "Outcomes will be assessed by action -- specific safety and reliability steps that I and others have advocated -- more than releases and words."