Metra on track to Improving Rail Safety

With one the largest, oldest, and most extensive public transit systems in the nation, concerns over safety are nothing new to the resident of Chicago. Railway safety, in particular, has become an increasingly concerning problem in recent years. Train-to-train collisions, rail crossing accidents, derailment, plat-form jumping—train component failures and operating errors—speeding, switch position mistakes, door opening issues—the list goes on and on. The Train Injury Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. take note of recent developments in Metra’s ongoing efforts to prevent accidents and close-call incidents—Installation of Control Systems and Union approval to launch a Confidential Reporting Program.

Perhaps the most significant safety enhancement is Metra’s announcement on Wednesday of its approval of an $80 million contract that will aide in implementing a high-tech control system—PTC. The PTC technology, short for ‘positive train control,’ is a system that relies mainly on GPS navigation to monitor train movements, including location, speed, positioning. It can identify work zones, potential hazards, as well as other issues that may lead to collisions or other railway incidents. The data gathered by PTC technologies is then used to control the train’s functioning.

The need to incorporate PTC technology extends from decades of research and data identifying the correlation between human error and train accident causation, eventually leading to the U.S. Railway Safety Improvement Act of 2008. The Act imposed a 2015 deadline for the installation of PTC systems throughout the nation, but a bill introduced last month seeks to extend this deadline to 2020. As train injury lawyers, we are pleased to see Metra taking action to implement this federally mandated system, and are optimistic to see the impact that current funding for PTC will have on improving railway safety.

Metra’s PTC implementation announcement, comes less than a week following union and FRA approval of a ‘Confidential Close-call Reporting System.’ Referred to as a “whistleblower-type program” by the Tribune, the system will allow crew members to confidentially report close-call incidents, unsafe conditions, and operating rule violations to an independent third-party agency. By using a confidential system, Metra hopes to increase incident reporting, by reducing hesitancies to report caused by fear of reprimand, suspension, or retaliation from other employees. In a statement by Metra released earlier this month,

“[t]he goal is to collect data about close calls that otherwise would have gone unreported or underreported, and to use that data to identify safety hazards and take steps to correct them before an accident occurs. Those corrective steps could include new or better training, physical changes, changes to safety rules or changes to operating rules.”

The launch of this program is expected to improve Metra’s safety culture, which the FRA identified as a key concern in its October 2014 assessment recommendations, following three separate incidents that occurred in less than a 2-week period between May 27th and June 3rd. While both the PTC and reporting system are certainly significant improvements, Metra still has a long way to go in terms of improving overall safety. These improvements only address two of the seven specific safety concerns identified by FRA last October. The remaining five include:

  • Empower conductors to prioritize the safety of operations over collecting fares, on-time performance and customer service;
  • Ensure heightened crew interactions during higher risk operations;
  • Establish new procedures to strengthen the flow of information between operating lines and Metra headquarters;
  • Add technical skills training for managers;
  • Add safety measures and procedures that would provide a level of safety redundancy to protect crossover movements

As train injury attorneys, we support Metra’s efforts to enhance safety and minimize risks, through improving railway technologies and encouraging good work ethic amongst its crew members. We look forward to seeing the effect that these programs will have on reducing rail incidents along Chicago’s Metra in the coming years.