A report released last December by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s inspector general highlighting poor maintenance work on the Metro-North commuter railroad has only recently captured the state’s attention.
The report, completed by the MTA’s Inspector General Barry Kluger, revealed that Metro-North’s maintenance crews are poorly supervised, not given proper assignments and not obligated to document their daily work activities. Although the study was published last year, the MTA released its first public statement in response to the findings this Monday. In the statement provided by MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders, MTA officials said they are actively working to solve the issues highlighted in the report.
“The Communications department still does not have an inventory of its equipment, nor are there repair records,” Kluger wrote in the report. “Its supervisors still do not track the performance of their crews and there are no written records of the work. Assignments are still made verbally, and crews still do not have to log their activities or document their work.”
In her recent statement, Anders said the MTA is working to develop a computer-based system of record keeping to better track the tasks assigned and completed by maintenance workers, who are responsible for the railroad’s infrastructure. She added that this information will be integrated with a workflow database to improve the assignment and performance of maintenance tasks.
But, in the past, the MTA has failed to deliver on its promises. In 2001, a report was completed by the Office of the Inspector General that found similar grievances with Metro-North’s maintenance work.
“Upon issuance of this 2001 Audit Services report, Metro-North management agreed with the report’s findings and agreed to fully implement all of its recommendations,” Kluger said in the 2014 report.
Yet, many of the same problems reappear in this new report — most significantly, employees still don’t keep records of their work and managers still don’t track their performance, Kluger wrote.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican who represents Norwalk, Westport and Wilton, said this report is the latest in a series of studies highlighting structural problems within Metro-North. She said she was not surprised by the findings of the report, given the large number of issues MTA still needs to correct.
“There has been an awful lot of mistakes by Metro-North — fatal accidents, all kinds of breakdowns, power losses, and it just seems to be without end,” Lavielle said. “I think that they continue to owe us a great deal of accountability.”
Despite recurring issues with the railroad line, the state’s contract with Metro-North, signed three decades ago, lasts 60 years. Until then, only amendments to the contract can be made in five-year intervals.
Lavielle encouraged the state’s Department of Transportation to negotiate institutionalizing performance standards for Metro-North during one of these reviews. At the moment, the contract does not include any performance standards to which Metro-North must adhere and it also does not outline any penalties for poor performance, Lavielle said.
Students interviewed who frequently use the Metro-North rail lines — riding the line at least once a month — said they were overall satisfied with the service. But, when informed of the findings of the report, all three students expressed concerns about using Metro-North given their poor maintenance work.
“Knowing this certainly makes me feel more apprehensive about taking the train,” Deborah Leffell ’17 said. “I, of course, have heard of a number of devastating accidents that have occurred on Metro-North as a function of operators going too fast and other forms of negligence.”
Metro-North Railroad’s five active lines include 122 stations serving New York and Connecticut.