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Feds probe safety practices at Metra

The Federal Railroad Administration has launched a 45-day investigation into safety practices at the Metra commuter railroad system, officials announced Friday.

Three incidents on Metra lines within a two-week period triggered the federal action, according to Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo.

None of the incidents resulted in an accident or injuries, but each of the train engineers involved lost their federal certification to operate a locomotive for 30 days.

Two of the occurrences under investigation involved speeding on the Rock Island line, on May 27 and Monday.

The most recent occurrence, unreported in the media, took place Tuesday on the Metra Electric Line around 6:30 p.m., when a train leaving the Matteson station went 20 feet past a stop signal.

“Three incidents serious enough to warrant decertification and in such a short period of time — warrant immediate action,” Szabo said at a news conference in downtown Chicago. “We’re going to raise the magnifying glass over these recent incidents and this will allow us to learn more about what happened and why,” Szabo said.

Metra CEO Don Orsino called the three occurrences over a short period “an anomaly, it’s not something that’s systemic. But whether it’s an anomaly or not, we’re going to take every infraction at the most serious level.”

Orsino said that Metra will cooperate fully with the federal assessment and will also continue to pursue its own independent investigations.

The FRA is assigning a 12-person team, including five members from other regions, to look into the incidents and come up with recommendations for improving safety.

Investigators will interview the affected employees and comb through event recorder tapes, radio tapes and videos. They also will audit Metra’s training and testing programs, and meet with labor leaders and Metra employees to “listen to their concerns,” Szabo said.

He added that the investigation could expand depending on what investigators initially discover.

But Szabo also said that “historically this has been a very safe railroad” and that Metra “responded appropriately and took the proper actions after these three events.”

Orsino said Metra customers should have no worries over safety.

“We have one of the safest commuter rail systems in the country and we’re not going to stop,” Orsino said. “It’s a relentless pursuit by both of us, the FRA and Metra to ensure the safety of our customers, our employees and the communities we run through.”