In the wake of a commuter rail crash in New York that killed four people and left dozens injured, New Jersey Transit will undergo internal and external reviews of its safety practices and procedures.
At its monthly board meeting Tuesday, the agency approved about a half-million dollars on an outside consultant to conduct a comprehensive safety review. NJ Transit also is forming a 17-member internal committee to look at safety issues.
Officials said the efforts were spurred by a report on the Dec. 1 derailment of a Metro-North train in the Bronx. Four passengers were killed and about 70 more were injured.
The Federal Railroad Administration said in a report issued last month that Metro-North had created a culture that sacrificed safety for on-time performance, and it ordered the railroad to "prioritize safety above all else.''
Veronique Hakim, NJ Transit's new executive director, said Tuesday she doesn't believe safety has taken a backseat at the agency, but said the review is necessary.
"The starting point for that committee is the `deep dive' that the FRA issued on Metro-North," she said. "We've looked at every element that the report looked at, and we are doing a comparison as to how New Jersey Transit fares, so if the FRA were to come in today and do a deep dive here, what would they find."
"The external consultant will give us an opportunity to validate what the internal committee is doing, as well as going beyond and saying what are rail safety best practices on a national basis and give us recommendations."
The independent safety review will be conducted by Rail Safety Consulting of Pittsford, N.Y., at a cost of $467,973 with a 5 percent contingency, and will take about 90 days.
According to Michael Reilly, general chairman of the union that represents about 1,100 conductors and trainmen at NJ Transit, safety is not emphasized at the agency. In comments to the board Tuesday, Reilly said, "I can tell you now what the safety culture at NJT is. There is none."
Reilly said train crews often get the latest information slower than passengers get it, due to out-of-date technology. He also said worker morale has suffered, partly due to crew facilities in New York that are "overcrowded, dirty and infested with rodents" and to the fact that numerous conductors have suffered physical assaults on trains. He declined to provide more specifics after the meeting.
NJ Transit chairman James Simpson vowed the agency would take a hard look at passenger and employee safety.
"It starts at the top or it doesn't start," he said.