The derailment and collision of two Metro-North trains in Bridgeport on May 17, which injured 70 people, focused attention on the safety of commuter rail traffic in Connecticut. The death of a track worker in West Haven just 11 days later is a sobering reminder that it's not just passengers who are at risk.
The National Transportation Safety Board, after investigating the May 28 incident, said last week that Metro-North should start using a basic safety step called "shunting" to prevent accidents of this type.
Shunting is widely used by railroads. It involves attaching electronic devices to the rails in work zones; they send stop signals to dispatchers and oncoming trains. In the fatal accident, a section of track had been taken out of service, but was reopened too soon by a student controller; a shunting device could have prevented the fatality.
Thankfully, Metro-North appears to have gotten the message. Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced Friday that the railroad will implement a pilot program within the next four weeks to install shunting devices on portions of its New Haven Line. Mr. Blumenthal said he hoped the pilot would lead to a full rollout of shunting devices.
And soon, let us hope. In addition to the May 28 incident, a a track worker in New York was nearly hit by a train on May 4 when a section of track was accidentally returned to active status before maintenance was complete.
Metro-North says it is studying other ways to improve safety. One might involve succession planning.
According to Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, 34 managers have retired so far this year, including the senior vice president of operations, the senior construction engineer and the chief training officer and the assistant director of track projects. That's a lot of key personnel; it's important that their positions be filled with well-trained people, and that those new to the staff be adequately supervised.
This is the busiest commuter railroad in the country, one that is vital to the state's economy. It must be safe for all.