A shortage of workers has deprived the staff of days off, resulting in a fatigued workforce responsible for ensuring trains don’t run into each other or run over employees along the tracks. The shortage is one of the shocking revelations found in a 75-page transcript of an interview with MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB was then investigating a series of five major Metro-North accidents that took place in less than one year, including the December derailment in the Bronx that killed four passengers.
Prendergast himself expressed disbelief at the depth of the weaknesses. He was chairman only five months when the first accident, a derailment in Bridgeport, Conn., occurred in May 2013. The last — a track worker hit by a train in Harlem — occurred in March.
“The decay was a lot worse than you would have expected it to be,” he said, apparently referring to both the physical condition of the tracks and quality of management.
Other shocking revelations:
* Rail-traffic controllers complained about not being properly prepared. They didn’t receive any training, for example, on a simulator that would mimic situations they’d confront in the control center—even though Metro-North apparently had such a device. “It’s like … ‘just get in the seat and learn,’ which they felt was just baptism by fire,” an investigator said.
* Supervisors of track gangs and other crews in the field were working six and seven days straight because of shortages in their ranks, resulting in perilous fatigue.
* Metro-North doesn’t have its own track-geometry car, which uses modern technology to scan and measure tracks for defects. “How can the second-largest railroad in the country not have a track-geometry car when New York City Transit has four or five and Long Island’s got one or two? I just don’t know,” Prendergast said.
* Management wasn’t “staying on top of inspections” and making sure permanent repairs to rails were getting done, Prendergast said. There was no systematic tracking of defects to identify dangerous trends. And there’s a hodgepodge of six different types of rails, which Prendergast said “is impossible to maintain.”
* Former Metro-North President Howard Permut, a career planner, didn’t have a nuts-and-bolts background in track maintenance and operations, and didn’t have top-shelf chiefs overseeing those areas to fill the void. “And that’s where it fell apart,” Prendergast said.
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