After Metro-North Derailment, Senators Push Overdue Safety Upgrades

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The aftermath of the Dec. 1 derailment. Photo: Christopher Gregory/2013 Getty Images

Last week's Metro-North train derailment, which killed four people, has drawn attention to the fact that several train safety improvements recommended by the federal government have yet to be implemented. In light of reports that the train's motorman may have nodded off just before the accident, Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called for the installation of interior and exterior cameras on trains nationwide during a Sunday press conference at Grand Central. "Inside to see what the engineer was doing, outside to see if tracks and signals were in good shape," Schumer explained, adding that this isn't the first time fatigue has been a factor in a railway accident. "Better late than never — should’ve done it five years ago, but they should do it now," he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the cameras be installed in all trains after a 2008 train crash that killed 25 people in California. The interior cameras wouldn't do anything to wake a sleeping driver, but Schumer said they would deter train operators from napping or texting.

The senators preemptively dismissed concerns about the price of installing the technology. "I know you're going to hear from Metro-North that there are costs, but the costs of these audio and visual recorders is minuscule, in fact negligible, compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars that this tragic incident will cost Metro-North in the end," said Blumenthal, adding, "Shame on Metro-North as well for objecting to these common-sense measures on the basis of dollars."

While unions have complained in the past that cameras may violate drivers' privacy, the railroad administration actually didn't object to the proposal. "We support the use of cameras in cabs to further improve safety, and as we continue to work with the N.T.S.B. on this investigation, we are considering making this recommendation and others to Metro-North," they said in a statement. 

The MTA was eager to point out that it's already implemented a variety of new protections (some by order of the Federal Railroad Administration), and will roll out more improvements in the next few months. The governors of New York and Connecticut are also pushing Metro-North to speed up installation of the "positive train control" system, which can automatically slow down trains traveling too fast, and might have prevented last week's crash. Congress passed a law in 2008 requiring that the system be put in place nationwide by 2015. Obviously, it wasn't soon enough for those killed in the derailment, or the 67 people injured, including 21 who remain hospitalized.