Monday, June 09, 2014

FRA launches safety investigation into recent Metra incidents

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is launching a 45-day focused deep dive safety assessment of Chicago's Metra in response to three incidents that have taken place in the past two weeks.

According to FRA, the assessment will focus on Metra's program of operational tests and inspections for all its operating crews, with special emphasis on training, qualification and testing of locomotive engineers.

This assessment is similar to Operation Deep Dive, the recent safety assessment conducted after a series of accidents on Metro-North Railroad that serves Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. As a result, Metro-North was directed to address twenty-five specific recommendations covering eight safety-critical concerns in an effort to mitigate risk and to begin a turnaround of the railroad's safety culture.

"Safety is our top priority, and by acting now, we can help prevent a serious accident where commuters could be hurt," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "We're taking immediate action to help Metra identify and remedy safety risks and to ensure the safety of all passengers."

FRA says its strategy for continuous safety improvement is founded on three pillars: a rigorous oversight and inspection program based on strategic use of data; advancing proactive approaches for early identification and mitigation of risk and capital investments and a robust research and development program.

"Our focused deep dive safety assessment will help us better understand the facts that led to these recent events and provide us an opportunity to assess Metra's testing, training, performance and compliance programs and ensure the public's confidence in Metra," said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. "Railroad safety has significantly improved over the [p]ast decade, but we owe it to the public to always do better. Our ultimate goal is to drive continuous safety improvement."

Following the announcement of the 45-day safety assessment, Metra CEO Don Orseno issued the following statement:

"Safety is Metra's top priority. We are in the process of completing our own internal investigations on these incidents. Earlier this week, Metra contacted the FRA to inform them of our actions. We are fully committed to working with the FRA and welcome their review. We share a common goal of making commuter rail travel the safest mode of transportation.

"As part of our standard protocol, the engineers in these incidents have been removed from operating service pending the completion of a full investigation. In addition to our on-going operational testing, we have directed managers to personally meet and review safety procedures with operating personnel and reinforce the importance of maintaining situational awareness at all times. We have issued a safety bulletin to all operating employees. The BNSF and UP have also taken the same actions.

"Our operation is among the safest in the country, and customer safety is our number one priority."

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