When you investigate accidents, injuries; when you analyze failures of any sort on any railroad, we are seaching for a root cause-- that determining factor, or factors, that drive the accident from a potential condition to a manifest event.
We do this so that our solutions can be equally powerful in reducing, suppressing, the possibility of re-occurrence, of re-manifestation.
FRA knows this, and when it issues an emergency order we should expect, we need that emergency order to address that root cause. Emergency Order 29, issued December 6, 2013 does not address that root cause.
The directives entailed in the emergency order are based on assumptions that have not been shown to be either the root or contributing cause to the derailment in the Bronx. Those assumptions are that safe train operations are enhanced when multiple bodies are placed in the operating cab of the locomotive.
Clearly, this is not the case. The standard, "default," mode of operation for passenger and commuter rail trains everywhere in the United States (and elsewhere) is single-person cab operation and control. The number of incidents, accidents, failures per train for this type of service compares most favorably to that rate for freight train operations where almost all trains have multiple bodies in the cab.
Indeed, if FRA thinks single person cab operation and control presents elevated risk, then it should immediately extend its emergency order to all rail operations. It has not. And it will not. There is no evidence to support any such action being imposed on the industry. And, in reality, there is no evidence to support any such action being imposed on Metro-North Railroad.
While the emergency order uses its 14 pages to detail the other incidents taking place on Metro-North that FRA claims support the urgency and necessity of the order, none of the causes, or possible causes, root or contributing, primary or secondary, are addressed in the order, or by the directives with which the railroad must comply.
In this regard, it must be stated clearly to FRA that including those incidents in the emergency order does nothing to clarify the problems that railroad has encountered including the derailment at Spuyten Duyvil. In fact, such "lumping together" of incidents and applying an emergency remediation to one can confuse the investigation into the causes of the other incidents.
I should state here that I have no sympathy for the management at Metro-North in its struggle with these incidents. I have none. If Metro-North's successes were no accident, and I can verify that they were not, then it's failures are no accident. OK, I've said that.
I should also state that I have my own opinions about a possible "unifying theme" to the MNR incidents, but that theme is hardly addressed by the emergency order.
The presumption that adding bodies will enhance safe train operations is factually refuted by the performance of all US railroads over the last 30 years. Continuous improvements in safe train operations have been coincident with the reduction in employees; the application of technologies that centralize and concentrate control of the operation.
Railroads expect, and rightly so, when dealing with the regulator of industry practices and procedures, that the regulatory body will take actions and issue directives on a consistent basis. EO 29 imposes a "2 for 20" standard on Metro-North, requiring two bodies in the cab when and where there is a required speed reduction of 20 mph or more. This "2 for 20" is itself an interim measure as the order directs Metro-North to modify its automatic train control sytem to enforce not only the safe separation of trains, but the "20 +" speed reductions. Of course, since no enforcement has to be installed at "less than 20" locations, and since no enforcement is required of the maximum authorized speed for any section of the railroad, any locomotive engineer can overspeed his or her way to disaster in the unprotected areas, directly repeating the performance of train 8808 at Spuyten Duyvil.
But let's get back to consistency. How far back? Ten years back, eight years back, because in 2003 the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad (Metra) experienced a severe overspeed derailment of train 519 on its Rock Island/Joliet District at CP 48th Street. In this incident, the locomotive engineer, operating alone in the locomotive cab, failed to observe the two signals governing the train's approach to and movement over a crossover restricted to 10 mph. The train, operating at more than 65 mph derailed, no surprise. More than 40 people were injured, but there were no fatalities.
NTSB conducted a thorough investigation and issued its recommendations. FRA did not issue an emergency order, and imposed no requirement upon Metra to comply with NTSB's recommendations.
Two years later, in 2005, Metra experienced another more severe derailment at the very same location. This time, the derailment involved train 504, operating into the LaSalle Street station, and again, the train was operating with the locomotive engineer alone in the controlling cab, this time with the locomotive pushing the push-pull consist, and again the engineer failed to observe the signals governing movement over the 10 mph crossover, and again the train derailed at 69 mph, and this time 117 were injured, and 2 were killed.
And again NTSB investigated and made recommendations. As a matter of fact, before completing and reporting its investigation, NTSB issued an "urgent recommendation" to the agency asking it to "install an automatic train control system with cab signals and train control enforcement over the entire Joliet Sub District until a positive train control system is installed."
FRA, however, issue no emergency order.
Metra responded to NTSB's urgent request as follows:
Metra responded that such an interim measure would cost nearly $125 million and take at least 9 years to accomplish and proposed an alternative. Instead, Metra is moving forward on the development and installation of an Electronic Train Management System (ETMS), which would control the train if an engineer failed to properly respond to a restricting signal. Metra is finalizing a contract with Wabtec to install ETMS on the Rock Island District. Phase I of the system will automatically enforce all permanent speed restrictions such as crossover moves or physical constraints such as curves. The funding for the Phase I work is in place and includes 12 miles that will be initially equipped. It will later be expanded to the remaining Rock Island District in Phase II after testing and FRA approval. ETMS cutover for Phase I is expected in October 2007 for the test period. Metra has had preliminary meetings with the FRA to discuss the ETMS project. Metra anticipates that material delivery will begin in the first quarter of 2007. The balance of the material should be delivered in 2007 with installation, testing, and FRA approval extending into 2008. (NTSB Railroad Accident Brief, Accident DCA 05-MR-013, page 9).
Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Especially since ETMS is the basic platform for the PTC systems that the major railroads have decided to install.
And has that installation occurred? Apparently not, as no mention of the existence of an ETMS system is made in Metra's Positive Train Control Implementation Plan, filed and approved by the FRA in 2010. That plan is required to include a description of the train control systems currently utilized by the railroad over its territories.
According to its submission, Metra's Rock Island Distict, Main Line to Joliet, utilizes bi-directional signaling with CTC rules. There is no automatic enforcement.
So in 2005, Metra answered the NTSB's urgent recommendation stating that compliance would take 9 years and cost $125 million, and proposed installing ETMS. And now...today? It's almost 2014, ETMS has not been installed in the interim 8 years and there is still no protection--( although the interlocking that was CP 48th street has been moved, and I'll bet a higher speed rated crossover is part of that interlocking).
Now this is not a case of complaining about "unequal" treatment. Nobody is "picking on" Metro-North . FRA, however, has not acted with either consistency or real effectiveness in regards to the Metro-North derailment.
December 8, 2013
I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood
--The Animals, 1965