NTSB Issues Safety Recommendation to Address Track Safety Standards for Commuter Railroads

In the wake of last year's derailment and subsequent collision of two Metro-North Railroad passenger trains in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Metro-North Railroad to address track safety standards for commuter railroads. 

On May 17, 2013, an eastbound Metro-North train bound for New Haven derailed from main track 4 of the New Haven Line Subdivision 7 and was struck by a westbound Metro-North train bound for New York City. Forty eight people were hospitalized as a result of the collision.

In their investigation of the incident, NTSB officials have identified a pair of broken compromise joint bars on the rail of track 4. Compromise joint bars are used to join two rails of different sizes, to compensate for the different heights of the rail head running surfaces. Investigators measured the exposed portions of the breaks and determined the gage side bar (the bar closest to the centerline of the track) was the first bar to break. According to an NTSB press release issued today, the last inspection for the line was performed from track 2, and the gage side of the rail on track 4 would not have been visible from a hi-rail vehicle that traveled on track 2.

"We remain concerned about the practice of inspecting adjacent track without traversing it, either on foot or with inspection vehicles, on a periodic basis," the NTSB wrote in their safety recommendation to the FRA. "This concern is especially relevant to high-density commuter railroads like Metro-North."  

In order to address this concern, the NTSB recommended that the FRA remove their current exemption for high-density commuter railroads and require all railroads to either traverse each main track by vehicle or inspect each main track by foot once every couple of weeks. At present, high-density commuter railroads like Metro-North are exempted from traversing each main track by vehicle or by foot. As for Metro-North, the NTSB recommended that they cease the practice of using the FRA's exemption.