Durbin: FRA Taking Proactive Steps to Ensure Continued Safety of Metra Riders

In response to Durbin's request, federal agency will exercise oversight authority to increase inspections monitor compliance and strengthen communication

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – In response to a letter from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) committed to increase safety oversight of Metra operations by taking additional steps to ensure that safety rules and regulations are being followed and the lines of communication are open between employees and management on all safety issues.  According to a letter sent to Durbin by FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo, the FRA will further exercise its oversight authority by increasing the number of operation inspections on Metra trains.  


“The FRA’s quick response shows that safety is and will remain the highest priority at Metra,” said Durbin.  “I thank Administrator Szabo for his quick response to my request.  Commuters can be certain that the leadership and management issues at the Board will not compromise the safety and efficiency of Metra operations.”


“Safety is our first priority,” said Joseph Szabo, Federal Railroad Administrator.  “Historically, Metra has had an exemplary safety record, in large measure due to the dedicated career personnel who oversee and perform the daily operations.  Our goal is to ensure that legacy of safety does not erode during this period of transition.”    


On August 6, Durbin sent a letter to Administrator Szabo asking him to increase oversight of Metra in order to ensure the railroad operates safely and efficiently while its current leadership issues are being resolved.  Durbin’s call for increased oversight came after a fourth Metra board member resigned in the wake of a scandal tied to the awarding of a $718,000 severance package to the rail agency’s former CEO, Alex Clifford.  In his letter, Durbin wrote: “I know the professional, non-political staff at Metra is dedicated to running this railroad in the safest way possible, however the lack of permanent leadership at the Board and management levels creates a situation where accountability is hard to find and priorities like safety could become neglected.”


The FRA has already begun taking the following proactive steps to ensure the Metra employees, Metra riders and the general public:


  • Increase Inspections. FRA inspectors will increase the number of train operation inspections on Metra trains.   During these inspections, the FRA inspector may ride in the locomotive cab with the Metra engineer, observing his operation of the train, his overall knowledge of the operating rules, and his awareness of the operating environment.  The FRA inspector will also have the opportunity to discuss any emerging safety issues directly with the crew members responsible for the safety of the Metra passengers.


  • Communication. The FRA Administrator has personally opened up lines of communication with the Metra Deputy Executive Director/Chief Operating Officer and emphasized the need to stay focused on safety during this period of leadership transition and ensured a direct line of communication should any void of leadership have the potential of creating an unsafe environment.


  • Hold Weekly Meetings. The FRA Region 4 Regional Administrator will hold weekly face-to-face meetings with the Metra Deputy Executive Director / Chief Operations Officer to review any safety issues revealed through FRA inspections or communication with Metra labor organizations. The weekly meeting will also allow discussion of any operational issues that may affect Metra or other railroads in the Chicago area.


  • Engage Labor Leaders. The FRA Region 4 leadership will engage labor leaders and rank and file members to make labor aware of FRA’s increased oversight and to facilitate two-way communication on all aspects of rail safety.  These meetings will include senior level meetings, open meetings, and informal face-to-face with the rank and file employees.


  • Participate in Monthly Labor-Management Meetings. The FRA Region 4 representatives will attend and participate in monthly Labor-Management Safety meetings.  During these meetings, labor representatives discuss any safety concerns directly with Metra management.  These meetings encompass Metra employees in the engineering, mechanical and transportation departments and their managers.


  • Increase Oversight of Testing. FRA inspectors will increase oversight of Metra’s operational test and inspection program.  All railroads are required to conduct “tests” to ensure the employees are properly trained on the operating rules of the railroad, and that they perform their daily duties in accordance with these rules.  Further, FRA will ensure railroad management is also trained and qualified on the rules and provide competent and knowledgeable oversight of their employees.


  • Participate in Bi-Monthly Review of Rules & Regulations. The FRA Region 4 Regional Administrator will participate in bi-monthly Chicago Operating Rules Association meetings and with the Metra senior rules director to review operational and safety rules that impact Metra and other railroads within the broader Chicago Terminal District and/or any cross-cutting concerns with local freight railroads.


The letter from Administrator Szabo to Durbin is attached.