65° Good Morning
65° Good Morning

Editorial: MTA finally gives safety more respect

A train enters foggy Jamaica station as LIRR

A train enters foggy Jamaica station as LIRR resumes full service for the first time since superstore Sandy on Dec. 10, 2012. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

The MTA seems to get it now.

In the wake of December's deadly Metro-North derailment in the Bronx, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has installed new speed-control technology on 10 treacherous curves in the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road systems.

And it has drawn up a new executive flow chart. Don't laugh -- this matters. The MTA has added the position of chief safety officer to its senior staff -- a key official who will report directly to MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast. And all safety supervisors throughout the MTA will now report directly to their presidents.

These jobs demand sharp judgments, balancing risks and costs in a system that provides 335,000 rides a day on the LIRR alone. The elevation of safety officers in the pecking order should guarantee that urgent needs are addressed quickly and competently.

The LIRR expedited its installation of speed-control technology after the Metro-North crash in the Bronx.

But the greatest safety challenges could have less to do with signals, bureaucracy and speed controls -- and at bottom -- more to do with human complacency. Metro-North's experience is a cautionary tale.

The agency was one of the world's most admired railroads. It won prestigious awards in the industry and claimed bragging rights over the LIRR.

Then last year it all came apart. There was a power outage near Mount Vernon that left 65,000 daily round-trippers in the lurch for days. There was a collision on the New Haven line that injured numerous passengers. And, of course, there was the horrific crash of that speeding train in the Bronx that killed four passengers and injured scores.

What went wrong? Metro-North officials kept emphasizing that the system had worked fine for 30 years. Yes, but that ultimately didn't matter. Metro-North had been asleep at the switch.

The MTA can't let that happen again on any of its services.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.