It was one year ago this past Sunday that a Metro-North Hudson Line train derailed at a sharp curve just before Spuyten Duyvil station. Four people died and dozens were injured. Some were returning home from Thanksgiving or heading to the City for the day. Others were just going to work.
Everyday I ride on a copy of the train that derailed; a Hudson Line express (with the same old, Shoreliner cars) that starts in Poughkeepsie, travels the same route through the same stretch of track to Grand Central. And everyday, we pass through that stretch I think about the people that were hurt and people that died.
2013 was not Metro-North’s year; but it was supposed to be.
A press release sent out on New Year’s Day 2013 reminded riders of how far the railroad had come since the days of Conrail with language that proves haunting now.
Derailments, track fires, mechanical break downs…and always late. That’s the way it was on December 31, 1982, in what was the Metropolitan Region of Conrail. And that’s the way it was on January 1, 1983, when the name changed to Metro-North Commuter Railroad.
30 years later, then-president Howard Permut spoke of a railroad that had been rebuilt, revitalized and was “internationally recognized for its excellence” with “consistent on-time performance of better than 97% and a customer satisfaction rating of 93%.”
What is telling in the press release is for all the pats-on-the-back about performance and ridership, the word “safety” (in this case ‘safe’) is only used once. One single mention in more than 1500 words. A year later, all Metro-North is talking about is safety, even under the pressure from politicians for higher on-time performance. Good for Metro-North.
I guess for some, the memories of last year have faded. Mine have not. When we hit that curve each morning and I look out the window I am reminded why being safe is better than being on-time.