By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ Metro-North Railroad will implement a pilot program to install devices urgently recommended by a national safety board to provide extra protection to workers after a track foreman was fatally struck by a train, officials said Friday.
Metro-North said it will install shunts on portions of its New Haven line within the next four weeks that can be attached to rails in a work zone to alert controllers and gives approaching trains a stop signal.
Robert Luden, a 52-year-old track foreman, was struck and killed May 28 by a train at a station under construction.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the devices cost only about $200 each and likely could have prevented Luden’s death.
“This step will help save lives,” Blumenthal said. “This pilot shunt system, hopefully leading to a full roll-out, is commendably part of a major refocus on rail safety.”
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is still investigating the accident, urgently recommended this week that Metro-North provide backup protection such as shunts for track maintenance crews who now depend on train dispatchers.
The NTSB said Luden, of East Haven, had requested the track section be taken out of service for maintenance. That was done, but the NTSB said that the section was placed back into service by a student rail traffic controller, who didn’t have the required approval of a qualified controller or the foreman.
“If the shunt had been in place on that track, there would have been a warning light until it was released by the workers themselves,” Blumenthal said. “They have control over whether trains are warned away from that track and they become the judges of whether the train should be permitted on the track. My view is, this kind of system should have been in place.”
In a letter Friday to Blumenthal, Metro-North President Howard Permut said the devices must be carefully implemented. The pilot program will be done on a part of the line that does not have third rail, he wrote, citing safety risks.
“There is an inherent danger that power from the third rail would inadvertently be routed through the shunting device, creating a different danger to the roadway worker,” he wrote. “There is also a significant concern that revolves around applying and removing the shunt; if the employee does not follow correct procedures, the potential risk of catastrophic injury from electrical burns is extremely high.”
Shunting devices in isolation are not fully effective in preventing a train from traveling into an area turned over to maintenance workers, Permut said, writing that it’s best to combine them with a physical barricade.
Metro-North has undertaken a complete review of its operating and safety programs since the fatality and a train derailment on May 17 in Bridgeport that injured more than 70 people, Permut said. He said the railroad has taken several steps, including retaining the research affiliate of the American Association of Railroads to assess track maintenance and inspection programs, inspected all rail joints that were similar to the one in the area of the derailment and increased inspections using specialized equipment borrowed from other railroads.
Metro-North said it also has implemented more checks and balances at its operations control center after the foreman was killed.
Associated Press writer Susan Haigh contributed.
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