$15 million sought to hire more rail inspectors

In this file photo, cars from a Metro-North

In this file photo, cars from a Metro-North passenger train are scattered after the train derailed in the Bronx neighborhood of New York. Although the train had an automatic breaking system that might have prevented the crash, at the time it wasn’t set up to enforce speed limits on the curve where the wreck happened. (Dec. 16, 2013) (Credit: AP)

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A spending bill unveiled this week by a bipartisan congressional panel includes $15 million to allow federal railroad officials to hire 45 more inspectors.

After a Metro-North commuter train derailed last month in the Bronx, killing four passengers and injuring 59 others, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said they pushed for additional funding. They contended the Federal Railway Administration, which inspects railways, was "woefully" underfunded.

"Having additional inspectors for our nation's rails will prevent future accidents and make the riding public safer, plain and simple," Schumer said in a statement Tuesday. "We've been underinvesting in our rail safety agency for too long, but with this major funding boost we're well on the way to fixing this problem."


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The $1.1 trillion spending bill, expected to be voted on at the end of this week, also requires the FRA to present the results of its ongoing investigation into the operation of the Metro-North to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations by March 17, Schumer said.

On Dec. 1, the 5:54 a.m. Poughkeepsie train bound for Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan shot off the tracks just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station and skidded to the edge of the Harlem River about 7:20 a.m.

Union officials have said the train engineer, William Rockefeller, 45, "nodded" off and failed to slow the train, which investigators said was traveling 82 mph as it entered a sharp curve where the speed limit drops to 30 mph.

The deadly derailment caused an estimated $9 million in damage, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which released its preliminary report yesterday but did not say what caused the Dec. 1 crash.

The brief report, which reiterates earlier findings, did not mention the engineer dozing off. An agency spokesman said the final report is months away from being completed.

Since the derailment, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have said they will step up safety measures wherever possible on the Long Island Rail Road to avoid accidents like the Metro-North derailment.

But LIRR officials, who have announced safety initiatives, have no new plans to address a stretch in Suffolk County between Ronkonkoma and Greenport on the LIRR's Main Line that is part of the "dark territory," which makes up a third of the system and has no signals or technology to monitor train speed and operations.

Kevin Thompson, an FRA spokesman, said no hiring of inspectors will begin until Congress approves the spending bill and President Barack Obama signs it.

Currently, the FRA only inspects 1 percent of the nation's rails, he said. Thompson did not say how many inspectors are on staff or how many inspections the agency would be able to conduct with the additional inspectors.

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