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Investigative Hearing – Two Metro-North rail accidents: Bridgeport train derailment on May 17, 2013 and West Haven collision death of Metro-North track foreman on May 28, 2013, Chairman's Opening Remarks
Deborah A.P. Hersman

Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. I am joined today by my colleagues: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, and Member Earl Weener. Member Mark Rosekind is not able to be with us today.

During these investigations, we have worked closely with the federal and state leaders from Connecticut; Senator Blumenthal, Senator Murphy, Congresswoman Etsy, and Governor Malloy. Senator Blumenthal is in the audience today, and we appreciate his interest in and support of our work. I would also like to acknowledge Mort Downey, Board Member of WMATA, who is here today and Howard Permut, President of Metro-North Railroad, who will be with us both days of the hearing.

Over the next two days, we are conducting an investigative hearing related to two accidents that occurred on the Metro-North Railroad this past spring.

On Friday, May 17, 2013, at the height of the evening rush hour, an eastbound Metro-North Railroad passenger train, derailed on track number 4 and was struck by a westbound Metro-North Railroad passenger train in Bridgeport, Connecticut. At the time of the accident, Metro-North estimated there were about 250 passengers on each train. As a result of the collision, 48 passengers, 2 engineers, and a conductor were transported to local hospitals. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. Metro-North estimated damage as a result of this accident at $18.5 million.

On May 28, eleven days later, Metro-North suffered a worker fatality when Metro-North Railroad passenger train 1559, traveling westbound at 70 mph, struck and killed a track foreman working on the New Haven Line in West Haven, Connecticut.

On behalf of the entire NTSB, I offer our condolences to the family and friends of the track foreman. We know that nothing can replace the life of your loved one and our thoughts remain with those that suffered injuries in the May 17 collision. Our goal is that through our investigations, our findings and recommendations, we can prevent similar tragedies in the future.

As a result of the West Haven accident, on June 17, 2013, the Board issued an urgent recommendation to Metro-North Railroad and reiterated a recommendation to the Federal Railroad Administration to require redundant protection, such as shunting, for maintenance-of-way work crews who depend on the train dispatcher to control access to occupied sections of track. A shunt is a device that crews can attach to the rails in a work zone to alert the dispatcher or controller and provides approaching trains a stop signal. Metro-North subsequently implemented this recommendation; however, to date, the FRA has not taken action on this recommendation that was originally issued in 2008 following roadway worker fatalities in Woburn, Massachusetts.

Over the next two days, we will learn more about many specific technical details of both accidents, and we will explore the adequacy of passenger rail car crashworthiness standards after evaluating the outcome of the May 17 collision. We will also learn about the organizational safety culture at Metro-North.

This hearing will illuminate key safety issues from these two accidents, so that the entire industry, from manufacturers to operators to regulators, can benefit from the lessons learned in order to prevent loss of life and injuries in the future.

Over the next two days, some of the questions we will be asking include: How does Metro-North inspect and maintain their track to keep it safe for train movements? How did the railcars perform during the Bridgeport derailment and collision? What are the operational measures put in place to ensure on-track work zones are protected from undesired train movements? What is the state of Metro-North's organizational safety culture? How can safety culture be strengthened? What corrective actions has Metro-North implemented since these two accidents? And, what is the role and effectiveness of Federal regulation and oversight in all of these areas?

It is important to note that our investigations look back at a snapshot in time – what we will hear over the next two days is about the procedures and protocols that existed in May 2013. But it is also important to note that, since that time, Metro-North has taken a number of critical steps to assess its infrastructure and safety culture. Metro-North brought in the Association of American Railroad’s Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI). TTCI assisted in identifying problem areas and made recommendations for changes which Metro-North is currently implementing. The FRA also has provided input to Metro-North on ways to improve their system. We all share a common goal in these investigations and that is to shed light on critical safety issues that can be addressed by Metro-North and the rest of the industry.

On October 22, 2013, the NTSB conducted a pre-hearing conference attended by the NTSB and the parties to this hearing. At that conference, we delineated the topics to be discussed at this hearing, and identified and agreed upon the list of witnesses and exhibits. Testimony and questioning will be limited to the topics identified and agreed upon.

The hearing will address key issues of the investigation through four panels. These four panels are:

  1. Metro-North Track Maintenance and Inspection;
  2. Crashworthiness of the Kawasaki M-8 Railcar;
  3. Operational Protection of On-Track Work Areas; and
  4. Metro-North Organizational Safety Culture.

I'd like to underscore that we are still in the fact-finding stage of the NTSB investigation. This hearing allows us to supplement the facts, conditions and circumstances related to these accidents, and identify what can be done to prevent similar accidents in the future.

Before proceeding, I'd like to recognize the NTSB staff members who are part of this hearing.

  1. Mr. Mike Hiller, Investigator-in-Charge (Bridgeport)
  2. Mr. Cy Gura, Investigator-in-Charge (West Haven)
  3. Mr. Mike Flanigon, Hearing Officer

Our technical panelists include:

  1. Dr. Tom Barth
  2. Dr. Bob Beaton
  3. Mr. Dave Bucher
  4. Mr. Tim DePaepe
  5. Mr. Richard Downs
  6. Ms. Georgetta Gregory
  7. Mr. Richard Hipskind
  8. Dr. Stephen Jenner
  9. Mr. Mark Jones
  10. Dr. Robert Molloy
  11. Dr. Kris Poland
  12. Mr. Thomas Roth-Roffy
  13. Mr. Frank Zakar

Additional support is provided by:

  1. Mr. Terry Williams, who will be handling Public Affairs;
  2. Ms. Ann Gawalt and Ms. Shannon Bennett will provide legal support; and
  3. Ms. Danielle Roeber and Mr. Nicholas Worrell, will be handling the audio/visuals.

I will now introduce the parties designated to participate in the investigative hearing. As prescribed in the NTSB rules, we designate as parties those organizations or individuals whose participation we deem necessary in the public interest and whose specialized knowledge will contribute to the development of pertinent evidence.

As I call the name of the party, I ask the designated spokesperson to identify themselves, their affiliation with the party they represent, and introduce others seated at their party's table.

  • Federal Railroad Administration: Mr. Robert Lauby
  • Metro-North Railroad: Ms. Anne Kirsch
  • MTA Police Department: Detective Tim Corcoran
  • Association of Commuter Rail Employees: Mr. Kirk Thomas
  • Connecticut Department of Transportation: Mr. Eugene Colonese
  • Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc.: Mr. Yoshiro Araki
  • Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen: Mr. William Walpert
  • Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes: Mr. Rick Inclima
  • Sheet Metal, Airline, Rail and Transportation Union: Mr. William Bates

I'd like to thank all of the parties for their assistance and cooperation with the NTSB investigation thus far. There is still more work to be done in the investigation, but we appreciate your valuable time, and we look forward to working with you as the investigation moves forward.

We will begin the hearing with a presentation by Bridgeport Investigator-In-Charge, Mike Hiller, who will provide an overview of these two accidents.

We will then proceed in sequence, one panel at a time for each hearing issue.

For each panel, Mr. Flanigon will call and introduce the witnesses, and each will testify under oath. The witnesses have been pre-qualified and their qualifications and biographical information are available on the NTSB website.

The witnesses will be questioned first by the NTSB technical panel, then by the spokesperson for each party, and finally by the Board of Inquiry.

The parties and Board Member questions will be limited to 5 minutes per panel. After one round of questions, due to time constraints, a second round will be limited to pertinent questions that serve to clarify the record or to address some new matter raised.

I must emphasize again the fact-finding nature of the hearing. NTSB investigations are, by regulation, fact-finding proceedings with no adverse parties. The Board does not assign fault or blame for an accident or incident. At this hearing, witnesses may not speculate or analyze the facts, and questions are limited to the predetermined subject matter of the hearing, which is contained in the hearing agenda. Questions related to fault, outside litigation, or legal liability in general will not be permitted.

The exhibits contain redactions, noted with a grey box, which were the result of negotiations between the parties and the NTSB regarding the disclosure of information claimed to be personally identifiable information or proprietary for business purposes. The NTSB is authorized by statute to disclose information to carry out its mission, but we must do so in a way that protects confidentiality to the greatest extent possible. While the NTSB has access to all of the information, the exhibits disclose to the public relevant materials that are part of the investigation and/or will be discussed at the hearing. A white paper explaining our authority to use proprietary information is available on the NTSB website.

At this time I will call on the Hearing Officer, Mike Flanigon, to go over a few items and to describe the exhibits to be used during the hearing. Mr. Flanigon.