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NYC's Metro-North Railroad gets 60-day safety review after deadly crash

By Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 4:07 PM EST, Thu December 12, 2013
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 2 : Cranes lift the derailed train wagons near the Spuyten Duyvil station on December 2, 2013 in New York City . A team of experts will conduct a 60-day safety assessment of the Metro-North Commuter Railroad in wake of the derailment that killed four people and injured dozens of others, the Federal Railroad Administration said Thursday. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 2 : Cranes lift the derailed train wagons near the Spuyten Duyvil station on December 2, 2013 in New York City . A team of experts will conduct a 60-day safety assessment of the Metro-North Commuter Railroad in wake of the derailment that killed four people and injured dozens of others, the Federal Railroad Administration said Thursday. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Feds order 60-day safety review after NYC derailment killed 4 and injured dozens
  • Federal Railroad Administration calls review "Operation Deep Dive"
  • It will "exhaustively review" compliance with federal regulations
  • Under scrutiny will be signals and maintenance, inspection and repair practices

New York (CNN) -- A team of experts will conduct a 60-day safety assessment of the Metro-North Commuter Railroad in the wake of the derailment that killed four people and injured dozens of others, the Federal Railroad Administration said Thursday.

Known as Operation Deep Dive, the action beginning on Monday is designed to "exhaustively review Metro-North's compliance with federal regulations, its procedures and practices, and its safety culture," the FRA said in a statement.

A "strike force" of technical and human factor experts will examine everything from track, signal and "rolling stock" maintenance, inspection and repair practices to communication between mechanical and transportation departments at maintenance facilities to compliance with federal hours of service regulations, including fatigue management programs, according to the statement.

The Hudson line train was hurtling along at 82 miles an hour, over the speed limit of 30 mph for that section of track, as it approached a sharp bend in the Bronx. The cars tumbled off the track, killing four passengers and leaving dozens more hospitalized. The lead car came to rest inches from water at the intersection of the Hudson and Harlem rivers.

Jeffrey Chartier, lawyer for engineer William Rockefeller, and the engineer's s union representatives said the train's hypnotic motion may have caused Rockefeller to nod off -- a case of what the lawyer termed "highway hypnosis."

The engineer told investigators that moments before the derailment he was "going along and I'm in a daze. I don't know what happened," one law enforcement official said.

Man vs. machine: Who should be at the wheel?

National Transportation Safety Board officials have said that the train had no mechanical problems and that the tracks and signals were in proper working order.

"Safety is our top priority, and this in-depth investigation will help ensure that Metro-North is doing everything possible to improve its safety record," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the railroad, said in a statement: "We have robust safety effort underway, including a Blue Ribbon Commission that is already studying areas that the strike force is curious about. Nevertheless, since safety is our number one priority, we're always happy to work with anyone who has constructive ideas about how to keep Metro-North's customers and employees safe."

The December 1 derailment was the fourth serious accident on the railroad since May. In June, a Metro-North train was sent down a track closed off for construction and fatally struck a foreman. In another incident, a Metro-North train derailed and was struck by a train on an adjacent track.

A rail safety expert told CNN Thursday that the sweeping federal review was routine after a string of serious accidents.

After the Operation Deep Dive assessment, the FRA will issue a report with findings and recommendations, the statement said. The agency will also evaluate the railroad's compliance with recent emergency order requiring "immediate steps to ensure its train crews do not exceed speed limitations."

The order requires the railroad 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."

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