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Hudson Valley News

It's Been One Year Since The Metro-North Fatal Train Derailment

Barry Solow, flickr

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the fatal Metro-North train derailment in the Bronx. In the past year, there have been safety recommendations along with the identification of a probable cause.

Shortly before 7:30 a.m. on December 1, 2013, a southbound Metro-North commuter train, originating from Poughkeepsie and bound for Grand Central Terminal, derailed in the Bronx. Three of the four passengers killed were from the Hudson Valley: 54-year-old Donna Smith of Newburgh in Orange County; 58-year-old James Lovell of Cold Spring in Putnam County; and 59-year-old James Ferrari of Montrose in northern Westchester County. The fourth was a 35-year-old woman from Queens. Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke soon after the derailment.

“The curve has been here for many, many years, right, and trains take the curve every day of, 365 days a year, so it’s not the fact that there’s a curve here,” said Cuomo. “There’s a curve here. The Hudson River hits the Harlem River, goes down to the East River, so we’ve always had this configuration. We didn’t have accidents. So there has to be another factor and that’s what we want to learn from the NTSB.”

In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board in October announced the probable cause of the fatal derailment, saying train engineer William Rockefeller fell asleep because of a combination of a sleep disorder and a drastic shift in his work schedule, causing him to miss a 30 mph speed limit and hit a curve at 82 mph. It says Metro-North railroad also lacked policy to screen for sleep disorders. Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, who took the helm a few months after the fatal derailment, says railroad officials "truly" take the findings "to heart." He says a test project on engineer sleep apnea is under way.

In March, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a report called Operation Deep Dive. It highlighted three overarching findings – an overemphasis on on-time performance to the detriment of safety; an ineffective safety department and poor safety culture; and ineffective and inadequate training. The report was spurred not only by the Bronx derailment, but three others in 2013 – two in May in Connecticut and a CSX freight train derailment in New York in July. Hudson Valley Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney used the FRA report to tout his legislation to allow commuter rail systems to apply for loans and loan guarantees to invest in Positive Train Control systems through an FRA financing program. He offered this comment back in March.

“And I am concerned that in this blizzard of recommendations we will get distracted from doing major new things that will save lives in the future,” said Maloney.

In October, following the NTSB’s release of the probable cause of the derailment, Maloney announced that his bipartisan bill passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as part of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act. He then urged passage of the Act. PTC is Wi-Fi and GPS-based safety technology that monitors and, if necessary, controls train movement in the event of human error. Maloney also called for the appointment of at least two safety experts to serve on the MTA board and the MTA Board Safety Committee. The MTA, also in October, announced the hiring of a chief safety officer to begin this month.

Maloney knew the Cold Spring resident, Jim Lovell, killed in the derailment. Their kids go to school together. The news hit the community hard, with many residents coming together for fundraisers and support. Leonora Burton, who owns a shop on Main Street, knew Lovell, an audio technician who had been on his way to Rockefeller Center to help with the lighting and sound for the big Christmas tree. The day after the derailment, Burton was choking back tears.

“It’s just, it’s like one of the saddest things,” said Burton. “I almost closed yesterday because I couldn’t stop crying.”

Outgoing Democratic State Senator Terry Gipson, who represents Cold Spring, summed up the community this way at the time.

“Philipstown is a very close-knit community,” said Gipson. “And everybody knows everybody and this has just been real devastating to everyone there.”

Now Maloney, in an e-mailed statement, says, “One year after a Metro-North derailment took the lives of our friends and neighbors, there is still much we need to do to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again. “ He says he continues to push for implementing positive train control on commuter rails.

A request for comment from a Metro-North spokesperson was not returned in time for this broadcast.

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