The Putnam Examiner

After Losing Husband, Philipstown Councilwoman Fights for Safer MTA

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It’s been almost a year since Nancy Montgomery lost her husband, Jim Lovell, to a tragic MTA train derailment. And almost a year later, the Cold Spring resident and Philisptown councilwoman is still questioning how the MTA is going to ensure an accident like that never happens again.

On Dec 1, 2013, Lovell boarded a train that was supposed to take him from Cold Spring to New York City where he was going to prepare for the Rockefeller tree lighting for NBC, but he never made it when the train careened off the tracks in the Bronx, claiming four lives including Lovell’s.

Since then, through the grieving and picking up the pieces, Montgomery has followed the MTA’s effort, or lack thereof, to improve safety measures to prevent another horrific accident from taking place. And ultimately she’s been disappointed.

With the anniversary of a crash that changed Montgomery’s life forever less than a month away, she continues to push for the MTA to make safety its top priority and most significant issue to tackle head on.

And she wants to be part of that push.

“The real message that I would like to get out is this is an opportunity now to make this the safest, the best organization, rail carrier that it can be,” Montgomery said. “And I’d like to help do that.”

The latest development Montgomery has seen from the MTA is a long awaited report that essentially states the accident that killed Lovell and three others, while injuring scores of other passengers, could have been prevented. The report, which came from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), detailed shortcomings that led to several MTA accidents in 2013. The overall theme of the report was ineffective safety management within the organization.

The report outlined the railroad system had inadequate track inspections and maintenance, weak worker protection procedures and deficient train cars that failed to properly protect passengers during extreme impact.

“I scanned the report because my first glance at it I initially felt like it was kind of ridiculous that this took a year to produce,” Montgomery said. “Everything in it I knew probably two days after the accident. The report is nothing new.”

A frustrated Montgomery was also displeased to discover the MTA named the ex-NTSB managing director, David Mayer, to a newly created safety chief post within Metro-North, calling it a “conflict of interest.”

As far as Montgomery is concerned, change needs to start with the MTA board and getting new members on the board.

“There’s nobody on the board who has any expertise in safety,” she said. “That’s why I want them gone and somebody appointed who has some expertise in safety.”

In an interview, Montgomery noted the MTA still needs to implement federal mandates from 2008 like testing for sleep apnea, which is the sleeping disorder that affected the engineer of that crashed train, William Rockefeller.

The MTA and Long Island Rail Road also committed $428 million for a contract to start the installation of the Positive Train Control system, which is supposed to be the best signal system out there. But the MTA said it could only be competed by April 2017, while the Rail Safety Act called for it to be finished by December 2015.

“There is not a culture of safety at the MTA, I know that firsthand,” Montgomery added.

Montgomery, since July, tries to attend every MTA board meeting held in Manhattan, taking the train each time. She spoke only once, and stressed how concerned she was by what she perceived to be a lack of interest in taking precautionary measures to ensure riders get to destinations unscathed.

Montgomery has also sent two different letters to Governor Andrew Cuomo, regarding safety and the MTA. One letter was sent in June, before he was going to reappoint two members of the board, in which Montgomery requested that they not be placed on the board again because new members with a priority on safety should be selected instead.

“The current Board has demonstrated that they are reactive to safety incidents rather than proactive in addressing system wide safety,” part of the letter stated. “The 8.5 million riders and 65,000 employees of the MTA deserve an organization that is genuine in their pursuit of safety. They deserve leadership that will swiftly implement recommendations of federal agencies, not drag their heels.”

In the other letter Montgomery wrote, she stated how safety doesn’t seem to be a priority of the board, noting how one board member told MTA president Joseph Giuliette that a shift must actually be made to other focuses besides safety.

Both times, Montgomery identified herself as the wife of one of the passengers killed in the Dec. 1 accident. Besides an automated response, Montgomery never got a reply from the governor’s office.

Montgomery guarantees no one on the board has their NIMS (National Incident Management System) training. As an elected official of a town of 10,000 residents, Montgomery has taken part in various emergency and safety preparedness and procedures classes to familiarize herself with what emergency management organizations must do. She doesn’t understand how MTA board members aren’t held to the same standards.

Though disheartened, Montgomery makes clear there isn’t one person or organization she blames. As she noted, “It’s too big to do that.”

Montgomery even wants her and her children to have the opportunity to meet Rockefeller “to forgive him.”

“That’s very important for my children,” Montgomery said. “They’ve expressed concern for him.”

On November 19, Montgomery will likely travel to Washington D.C., at her own expense, to meet with the NTSB chairman at a board meeting to discuss the special investigation recently released. Montgomery wants to question the entire board and ask why some of the members left in the middle of the investigation, though that seems unlikely to happen. She also wants to continue to educate herself on the happenings within one of the biggest bureaucracies.

Going forward, she does hope elected officials–from county executives to state lawmakers who all have varying say in who is appointed to the MTA board–take more critical actions toward prioritizing state residents ride a secure rail to and from their destinations.

“There’s a lot of work that has to be done,” Montgomery said “And not a lot of time.”



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