Railroad News

Connecticut Newspaper Takes Railroad Communications Failures To Task

(Westport, Connecticut – July 28, 2011)

An editorial in the Westport News Thursday took aim at Metro North Railroad’s failure to communicate with public emergency workers just 24 hours after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subsidiary had held a seminar for first responders in Westport, CT on the subject of responding to rail emergencies and rescuing passengers from trains.

The problem was – and the editorial appropriately labeled it as both coincidence and irony – that the public emergency forces were prepped, while Metro North officials seemed to have remembered nothing they had taught the public fire, police and emergency personnel. In the instruction class, Metro North’s fire chief “discussed rail safety, hazards that rescuers should be aware of, how to get access to trains in an emergency, and the role of Metro North crews and how they could be expected to help.”

The very next afternoon, a Metro North passenger commuter train lost power in Green Farms, CT with 300 passengers, including three pregnant women, on board. A Metro North dispatcher first told inquiring Westport emergency forces that the train was empty of passengers.

The passengers soon took matters into their own hands, as the train’s conductor, radio in hand, attempted, but failed, to contact Metro North Railroad personnel for help. Receiving 911 calls from passengers, Westport authorities again sought help from MN’s dispatcher, who had no idea where the stalled train was. Meanwhile, 103 degree heat upon a metal train with non-functioning air conditioning and no capability to open windows was taking its toll of passenger patience.

“That is where Metro North’s negligence was trumped by its incompetence,” charged the newspaper, relating that “a railroad spokeswoman this week said the railroad knows exactly where all of its trains are all of the time.”

She also “was quick to point out that it dispatched electricians to the scene who fixed whatever problem had stalled the train and got it moving in less than an hour.”

“So if it knew where to send its repair crew, why didn’t the railroad let the nearest rescue crews in on the secret?” countered the editorial.

“When that information cannot be quickly and accurately relayed to emergency personnel, the railroad’s communication protocols are dangerously inadequate,” the Westport News editorial continued. “And it is courting disaster.

At track level, what of the engineer and conductor on the train?” In conclusion, the editorial stated “Great public trust is placed in Metro North, and consciously or not, each passenger makes a leap of faith when he or she boards a train. Whether its trains run on time or not, whether they break down or not, Metro North’s first obligation is the safety of its passengers. Where that is concerned, the railroad’s communication procedures have jumped the track,” the Westport News concluded.