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Metro-North ordered to use 2 operators on certain routes

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NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

The Federal Railroad Administration has ordered the MTA's Metro-North Railroad to put two operators on all trains that run on routes with major speed restrictions until the railroad can overhaul its signal system to make sure speed limits are obeyed.

The FRA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, issued the emergency order on Friday in response to last Sunday's violent derailment of a commuter train in the Bronx, which killed four people and injured dozens.

"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."

That train was traveling 82 mph in a 30 mph zone near the Spuyten-Duyvil station in southern Riverdale, the NTSB has said. Several cars jumped off the tracks, and one almost dove into the Harlem River.

The operator of that train reportedly told investigators that he had zoned out at the controls. An official with the union that represents operator William Rockefeller said he apparently caught himself nodding just ahead of the crash.

The Daily News reported that Rockefeller was expected to undergo testing for sleep apnea, a disorder that causes someone to repeatedly stop breathing while asleep. The condition can cause the sufferer to be tired or even exhausted when awake. Left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, and more, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to the two-engineer rule, the federal emergency order requires Metro-North to do the following:

  • Give the FRA a list of main track locations where the speed limit is more than 20 mph lower than the maximum passenger train speed (deadline: December 10, 2013).
  • Identify "appropriate modifications" to the controls and signal systems of the trains and tracks so that operators have enough "warning of and adherence to" speed restrictions and can prevent another accident in case the engineer doesn't slow or stop a train in time.
  • Submit to the FRA for approval a plan that ensures the safety of passengers and employees (deadline: December 31, 2013).

Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sent a letter to the chairman of the MTA urging the agency to upgrade its commuter railroads to improve safety.

"[T]he MTA should expedite automated speed control for vulnerable track locations across the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road systems, including those areas where there is a significant speed change," Cuomo wrote to Chairman Thomas Prendergast. "We all agree this is an appropriate measure."

Cuomo's letter refers to a technology called positive train control, which helps an engineer maintain safer speeds and takes over and applies brakes if an engineer doesn't respond.

The MTA has said that it began installing positive train control on the LIRR and Metro-North in 2009 but doesn't believe that it can meet a 2015 congressionally mandated deadline because of the size and complexity of its rail system.

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