[Updated 10:14 p.m. to add more details]
Metro-North officials have released a report detailing what went wrong during the when about 300 passengers became stuck on a temporarily disabled train in the 100-plus-degree heat, without air conditioning, on an inaccessible stretch of track near Greens Farms Station in Westport for nearly an hour — and what can be done to prevent similar incidents in the future.
The report was released yesterday in anticipation of between Metro-North officials and commuters scheduled for 6 p.m. at Westport Town Hall.
In the report, Metro-North officials confirm that a lack of communication between train conductors and passengers is what caused many passengers to panic and dial 911 as temperatures inside the train cars quickly rose to well-above 100 degrees. Some passengers on the train said only one or two announcements were made during the entire 53-minute period the train was without power.
The incident occurred during one of the worst heat waves so far this summer. Although no one suffered any serious health problems as a result of the incident, Westport fire and EMS officials have pointed out that the heat inside the train cars could have resulted in medical emergencies, had passengers been left on the train for much longer than the 53 minutes they endured while it was disabled.
“Clearly, the lack of customer communication — in particular on [the disabled train in Westport] — exacerbated customer concern,” MTA officials said in the 16-page report. “Metro-North Railroad will review its protocols for making announcements on the public address systems and reinforce the importance of making them — both at stations and on board trains. In addition to reinforcing the frequency of announcements, an additional announcement will be drafted that lets customers know that we are working to resolve the problem even if there is no new information to tell them.”
The report adds that Metro-North “will also review its protocols between the Operations Control Center and the new Customer Communication Center in North White Plains to ensure that email alerts and other customer messages are sent in the most timely manner possible.”
In addition, “a review of all customer information protocols within the new Customer Communication Center will also be undertaken to ensure that all customer information — both visual and audible — are consistent and accurate,” the report states.
“In situations in which a train must operate with hot cars [i.e. little or no air conditioning], MNR will also ask train crews to make a pre-departure announcement that identifies the hot cars to customers and gives them an option to take that train or wait for a later one,” the report states.
The report also explains how miscommunication between MTA officials and emergency responders in Westport occurred, resulting in trouble locating the train and, subsequently, a delayed response from Westport EMS.
According to a report from the Westport Fire Department, released shortly after the incident, MTA officials mistakenly told emergency responders there were no passengers onboard the train — meanwhile the town’s 911 Public Service Answering Point had already received numerous calls from passengers. Westport officials also said there was some miscommunication as to the train’s exact location. This resulted in a delayed response from Westport EMS workers to the passengers — including three pregnant women and at least one infant who were reportedly onboard the stranded train.
“There was initially some concern by some Fire Department personnel in the town of Westport with emergency response coordination between Metro-North Railroad, the MTA Police, the Westport Police Department and the Westport Fire Department,” the report states. “A with representatives of all these agencies. It was a very productive meeting, with a significant amount of information shared among the agencies and protocols reinforced. As a result, MNR will conduct similar meetings with all local emergency response organizations in the communities east of Stamford. These meetings will be conducted within the next two months.”
The report points out that MTA police accessed the stranded train before Westport emergency responders arrived and distributed water to the passengers. According to the report, MTA police carried cases of water through the woods in order to get it to the train.
Metro-North says it has “identified additional vehicles which will be stocked with water and other items that may be necessary when responding to emergencies along the right-of-way.”
Metro-North also points out that aging railway infrastructure played a role in the incident. It points out in the reporet that the Wesport incident was one of several that occurred that day — the main cause being the effects of the heat on railway equipment.
In order to counter the effects of the heat on its equipment, Metro-North is implementing new operating protocols for when there is high heat, including establishing "additional speed restrictions for use during high-heat situations" and creating "more conservative service plans for use during instances of extreme temperatures/weather conditions, especially for use in areas of the New Haven Line that have over-age wire or that are undergoing construction and have reduced track capacity."
Specific actions to improve Metro-North and passenger communications include creating a "new announcement that can be used while assessments are being made and there is no new information to share;" reviewing "protocols between operations control center and new customer communication center to ensure timely announcements;" and reviewing "all protocols within the new customer communication center for both audio and visual information to ensure accuracy and consistency."
The agency also plans to "conduct a table top exercise to drill against both existing and new protocols before the end of the year," according to the report.