Less than a week after a fatal accident in the Bronx, federal railroad officials Friday ordered Metro-North to immediately keep two qualified operators at the controls of commuter trains in places where speeds change by 20 mph or more.
The Federal Railroad Administration also ordered Metro-North Railroad to identify modifications that it can make to its automated train control and speed warning systems to help avoid human failure of train engineers, similar to what caused Sunday's derailment that killed four and injured scores of passengers.
"Safety is our highest priority, and we must do everything we can to learn from this tragic crash and help prevent future derailments," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "While we assist the National Transportation Safety Board in carrying out its investigation, this emergency order will help ensure that other Metro-North trains travel at appropriate, safe speeds."
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Transporation Authority said that Metro-North "will of course comply with whatever requirements the FRA directs us to follow."
The agency's orders do not apply to the Long Island Rail Road, the spokesman said.
A federal official who didn't want to be named said earlier this week the federal agency sent a letter to the MTA "encouraging it" to launch a "safety stand-down," or safety sessions, with all employees and to fully implement a confidential close-call reporting system, which allows railroad employees to report without fear of reprisal any close calls or near-miss incidents that could have resulted in an accident.
In a letter Friday to MTA chairman Thomas J. Prendergast, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the agency should start taking steps to "expedite speed control for vulnerable track locations across the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road system." Cuomo's letter also asked the agency to conduct regular safety stand-downs with employees to "reinforce a safety culture."
While the NTSB probe of the crash remains ongoing, Cuomo wrote, reports "have now made clear that the actions of Engineer William Rockefeller were the initiating cause of this tragic accident."
"The train's speed, which Mr. Rockefeller controlled, was over 50 mph above the maximum allowed speed at the time of derailment," Cuomo said in his letter, referring to the 82 mph investigators said the train was traveling in the posted 30-mph zone.
Rockefeller, who survived the derailment, has been suspended without pay. Union and investigative sources said that Rockefeller nodded off just before the derailment north of the Spuyten Duyvil station.
As of late Friday, the MTA had not responded to Cuomo's letter to Prendergast.
Also Friday, funerals were held for two victims.
An Irish pipe solo was played at the Cold Spring funeral for Jim Lovell, the sound and lighting expert who was killed while heading to work on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. He had worked on NBC's "Today Show" for the past 20 years.
The funeral for Donna Smith was held in Newburgh. The paralegal was active in her church and civic groups and was headed to Manhattan to hear her sister sing Handel's "Messiah" with a choral group.
A funeral for Kisook Ahn will be held Saturday at St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church, 58-02 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, Queens, at 10:30 a.m. The Korean immigrant, a registered nurse, was returning home from her job at the Sunshine Children's Home and Rehab Center in Ossining.
The fourth victim, James Ferrari of Montrose, was buried Thursday. With AP