Metro-North Derailment In Rye Renews Call For PTC

May 19, 2017

A Metro-North commuter train derailment Thursday in Westchester County that authorities say resulted in minor injuries has federal lawmakers ramping calls for technology upgrades.

What authorities call a minor derailment on Metro-North’s New Haven line happened around 5 p.m. Thursday near the Rye station. Here’s MTA Interim Executive Director Veronique  “Ronnie" Hakim.

“The 4:31 out of Stamford around 5 p.m. in the curve right behind me had a partial derailment of five of its 12 cars,” Hakim said. “At that time, there were 12 injuries. Of those 12 injuries, four were transported to local hospitals, including the Metro-North conductor. There were eight people who refused medical attention of that 12.”

An MTA spokeswoman says the westbound train that was carrying 185 passengers was approaching the station. The cause of the derailment is under investigation.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal issued a statement saying that a derailment with reported injuries should never be considered as minor. The Connecticut Democrat also reiterated his call for the implementation of positive train control, which he says could have prevented or mitigated the incident. Democratic New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney also has been pushing for PTC implementation. Speaking on WAMC’s Congressional Corner earlier this month, he says it is en route.

“It’s happening in New York. It’s taking way too long. But, because of a source of federal financing that we pointed to, it opened up,” said Maloney. “Metro-North has got $1 billion at work right now on Metro-North and, excuse me, the MTA has it at work on Metro-North and on Long Island Rail Road. What I’m talking about is positive train control. That’s the technology that’ll stop the train if the human being doesn’t, using Wi-Fi and GPS technology. That will prevent derailments.”

A Metro-North spokesman says the railroad is on target to meet a federal deadline for PTC implementation of December 2018. And Maloney, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, issued a statement on the Rye incident saying, “We can’t keep sitting on our hands – if it’s broke, you fix it, and with minor derailments becoming more common, we need a comprehensive infrastructure bill that includes serious commitments to rail safety.” He added that federal investments in rail safety should support state efforts.

Democratic Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, Vice Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, spoke about positive train control also on Congressional Corner with Alan Chartock.

“Now there’ve been some glitches and there’s been some foot dragging, both going on, but we’re actually now pretty close to getting it implemented fully, but not there yet,” says Esty.

She says the Obama Administration had pushed to put in place a two-person rule to ensure there is a backup to the train engineer. Esty says the Trump Administration has reversed course.

“Immediately, pretty much immediately upon taking office, that’s now been rolled back. So that two-man rule has been rolled back, so it’ not going to be implemented,” Esty says. “And I think it’s a mistake because we don’t have a positive train control in place yet and we don’t have it in place everywhere. And I think the more prudent answer would be, let’s get it in place everywhere, see the impact it’s having, make sure that it actually is working to save lives the way we hope it does on paper, let’s make sure it does in reality. And that would be, I think, the smarter, better course of action, but the new administration took a different position.”

The Rye derailment follows two fatal incidents in the past few years that propelled federal lawmakers to seek action. February marked two years since what has been called the deadliest crash in Metro-North Railroad history when a commuter train crashed into an SUV that was stopped on the tracks at the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla, killing five people on the train and the car's driver. And there was a fatal Metro-North derailment in December 2013 in the Bronx neighborhood of Spuyten Duyvil. Following the Valhalla crash, New York state lawmakers have been focused on improving safety at rail crossings.