MTA appoints 6 to new rail safety panel

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman ... CEO Thomas F. Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman ... CEO Thomas F. Prendergast shown speaking at a breakfast meeting of the Citizens Budget Commission in Manhattan. Prendergast briefed CBC Trustees on the MTA's priorities and fiscal strategy. (Sept. 17, 2013) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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The MTA has empaneled six transportation experts to probe several safety-related train incidents this year, including a pair of Long Island Rail Road derailments.

The "Blue Ribbon Panel," as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority called it, will study the causes of the incidents, examine maintenance and inspection programs, "and ensure they promote a culture of safety within the MTA," according to an agency statement.

The panel members are former executive director of the American Railway Engineering Association Louis Cerny, former MTA executive director and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Mortimer Downey, former U.S. Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), University of Illinois senior research engineer Conrad Ruppert Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and former Union Pacific Railroad executive William Van Trump.

"These six experts are widely respected in their field and uniquely qualified to review maintenance and workplace practices, protocols and strategies that may have a relation to these recent incidents," MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said last week. "We want to learn lessons so these particular problems never happen again, but we also want to make sure the MTA has a rigorous safety culture that ensures every employee works to prevent unforeseen problems in the future."

Between March and June, the MTA experienced three separate derailments on its two commuter railroads. There were no injuries in two LIRR derailments in March and June. More than 70 people were injured when a Metro-North train derailed in Bridgeport, Conn., in May.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) in June called on the MTA to deliver a report on the incidents and how they could be prevented in the future. On Friday, he said he was looking forward to the panel's suggestions.

"I'm happy to hear that the MTA is taking a proactive step toward ensuring that our rails are safe for both LIRR commuters and employees," Israel said in a statement.

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