NEW YORK – Federal transportation officials issued an emergency order Friday for Metro-North Railroad to immediately put extra operators on lines that have major speed changes, including the one where a speeding commuter train derailed this week, killing four people.
The Federal Railroad Administration order was a reaction to Sunday's wreck, where a commuter train flew off the tracks after hitting a sharp curve at 82 mph, nearly three times the 30-mph speed limit. The lone train operator told investigators he nodded at the controls and didn't apply the brakes until it was too late.
There was no system in place in his operating cab to ensure that he didn't miss the spot where he had to slow down as the curve approached.
"While we assist the National Transportation Safety Board in carrying out its investigation, this emergency order will help ensure that other Metro-North trains travel at appropriate, safe speeds," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
The order will require the rail line to put at least two qualified drivers on trains where track speeds vary by at least 20 mph. Those extra drivers will be required until the railroad upgrades its existing signal and automatic control systems in a way that will deliver "adequate advance warning" of speed restrictions, officials said.
"These modifications will help prevent another over-the-speed-limit event if a locomotive engineer fails to take actions to appropriately slow or stop a passenger train," the railroad administration said in a statement.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees Metro-North, said it would comply with the order. It couldn't immediately say whether it would have any problems putting extra operators on duty. It said it also is examining other steps to improve safety following the crash.
Separately, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that he had asked transportation officials to make several safety changes, including expediting speed controls for areas vulnerable to crashes on the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter systems.
Cuomo also wants to accelerate efforts to install technology called "positive train control," which can automatically bring a train to a stop if it's exceeding a speed limit. Railroads are facing a congressional deadline to install such systems by December 2015.