Response Planning for Unexpected Events

Issued Date
June 28, 2021
Metropolitan Transportation Authority - Metro-North Railroad


To determine whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Metro-North Railroad (Metro-North) has plans or procedures to address unexpected or unplanned events and whether those plans were followed, and whether the plans or procedures addressed the needs of its customers. We also examined whether Metro-North reassesses and revises its plans or procedures in response to actual unexpected events. This audit covered events during the period November 1, 2018 to October 31, 2019. The fieldwork was conducted from October 31, 2019 to December 15, 2020.

About the Program

The MTA is responsible for developing and implementing a unified mass transportation policy for New York City and Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester counties. MTA carries out these responsibilities directly and through its subsidiaries and affiliates, including Metro-North.

Metro-North operates its three main lines out of Grand Central Terminal in New York City and its departments include Operations and Maintenance of Equipment. Transportation, a sub-department of Operations, is responsible for safe train operations and movement, train dispatching, engineer and conductor compliance with Federal Railroad Administration and Metro-North rules, crew dispatching, and all track outage coordination and planning. Transportation’s Operations Control Center (OCC) is responsible for safely routing trains across the Metro-North network. The OCC is staffed by rail traffic controllers assigned to manage 12 dispatching districts (specific sections of track defined by control points along the roadway). The supervisors of these districts are responsible for timely and accurate internal communication of information to all Metro-North departments.

When an unexpected event occurs, the OCC is notified by train engineers, train conductors, police (MTA Police Department or local), or field employees. Customers can also notify the OCC via phone or social media. The rail traffic controller for the district where the event occurred manages the event response, and a field supervisor on duty may be dispatched to the location. The person in charge in the field remains in constant communication with the OCC regarding any updates during the event. The rail traffic controller records an entry in a log of all the events of the day in chronological order. Each entry remains open until the event is resolved.

In all significant emergency situations that have the potential to disrupt or actually disrupt service to Metro-North customers, the Emergency Management Task Force (EMTF) may be mobilized to plan a coordinated, company-wide response to the incident. The EMTF is a group of Metro-North, MTA, and MTA Police Department personnel responsible for ensuring all appropriate information is gathered for decisions to be made in response to an incident, and that an appropriate response plan is determined.

As part of its internal communications, the OCC notifies the Customer Communications Department (Communications) about unexpected events. Communications determines if an event meets the criteria for a customer email/text notification. Depending on the time of day the events occur, there are different procedures for when customers are notified.

The Customer Service Center receives customer communications via email, customer reports/letters, phone calls, social media, and executive correspondence. Once a complaint is received, it is coded and assigned to a customer service representative. The complaint is then reviewed and researched and, if applicable, sent to the appropriate department for further investigation. If an investigation is warranted, the department is required to follow up with the customer service representative assigned. Finally, the customer service representative must respond to the customer within 48 hours.

Key Findings

Overall, Metro-North has procedures to address how its employees respond to most issues that cause unexpected or unplanned events. However, the procedures were not always followed. Among the conditions we found:

  • In 38 of the 80 sampled events, there was not always documented evidence that the procedures were followed completely. In addition, 26 of the 80 events required the EMTF to be placed on standby or activated; however, we found that the EMTF was notified of only one event. There were also no procedures for two events – cancellation of a special schedule and trees on the tracks. For the other 40 events, Metro-North followed its procedures. Metro-North’s procedures require customers to be notified of unexpected or unplanned events within a set time frame.
  • During our sampled events, customers either were not notified or were informed beyond the time frame set in the procedure. Metro-North was not required to send notifications to customers for 32 of the 80 sampled events. For the 48 events requiring customer notification, customers were not notified promptly in 24 events (within 15 minutes of OCC notifying Communications) and were not notified at all for 6 events. In the other 18 events, notifications followed Communications’ procedures.
  • Metro-North conducts daily meetings with all operating departments to review the Daily Operations Report, which includes all safety incidents from the previous day. However, neither the meetings nor the recommendations generated are documented to track implementation. Metro-North’s Office of System Safety supervisory personnel perform incident investigations based on the type of incident that has occurred. Additionally, other departments assist in the investigation process when collecting details about the incident, providing subject matter information, determining the root cause, and contributing factors, and developing corrective actions. Eight of the 13 corrective actions we reviewed were not implemented.
  • We reviewed customer complaints regarding service disruptions and found that MetroNorth did not always follow its procedures, including the requirement to respond to complaints. Additionally, responses provided did not always specifically answer the customer’s question or resolve the issue. We reviewed a sample of 20 complaints related to “Travel Disruption/Trip Problems” and found that 8 were handled in total compliance with Metro-North procedures. The other 12 were missing one or more steps.

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure Metro-North personnel follow all procedures in the applicable manuals.
  • Revise policies and procedures to clearly specify when an initial customer notification must be sent and exactly how often updates are to be sent after the initial notification when there are longer delays.
  • Update procedures for notifying EMTF members of the declaration of an OCC code using the established specific mail group for members of the EMTF to ensure all are specifically notified in the event a code is declared, upgraded, or discontinued.
  • Provide customers with timely responses that focus on answering the issues raised in the complaints.
  • Document and maintain the minutes and recommendations of all lessons learned meetings and the corrective actions taken in response to unexpected or unplanned events.

Carmen Maldonado

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Carmen Maldonado
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236