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Feds slam New York's Metro-North rail line for poor safety

The Metro-North Railroad, where at least five passengers and employees have been killed in less than a year, is plagued by shortfalls in safety operation, a stinging federal report said on Friday.

The report, released by the Federal Railroad Administration after its 60-day review of procedures, castigated the commuter line for ineffective training, poor supervision of tracks and a dangerous emphasis on on-time performance over safety and maintenance. The line primarily serves suburbs north of New York City, including in Connecticut.

"Metro-North must never compromise safety in the interests of the reliability of its train schedule or the efficiency in its railroad operations," the report said.

"This is a severe assessment and it is intended as an urgent call to action to Metro-North's leadership."

The federal review was prompted by a Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx that killed four passengers and injured about 70 others.

Along with the Bronx crash, the report, titled Operation Deep Dive, cited a May 17, 2013, derailment in Bridgeport, Conn., that injured more than 50 people; a May 28, 2013, accident in West Haven, Conn., that killed a Metro-North worker; and a freight train derailment in July on Metro-North's system in New York City that resulted in "significant" property damage.

Metro-North has to submit plans of action to the railroad administration within 60 days.

In a statement emailed to reporters, Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti praised the federal agency's efforts.

"The Federal Railroad Administration has performed an important review of Metro-North operations and recommended significant improvements. We take those recommendations seriously .... Metro-North is taking aggressive actions to affirm that safety is the most important factor in railroad operations, and we welcome the FRA's continued involvement to help Metro-North establish a consistent safety-first culture throughout the railroad."

The Dec. 1 derailment occurred as a Metro-North Hudson line train was going into a turn. The train, controlled by engineer William Rockefeller, was going 82 mph approaching the curve, according to a later investigation.

After the crash, Metro-North took steps to improve safety and in January the railroad's former president, Howard R. Permut, said he would step down.

The changes by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates Metro-North, include modifying its signal system to enforce speed limits, reducing speed limits in some areas and posting speed limit signs at higher-risk curves.

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