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posted: 7/27/2014 1:01 AM

Editorial: No alarm, but concern is appropriate at Metra

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

No one reacted with alarm at the revelation this week that disciplinary probes of Metra train engineers halfway into the year already have reached the level for all of 2013. And that's OK; alarm is not called for. Yet.

But concern is, so we expect Metra officials to be monitoring compliance with safety rules with appropriate vigilance.

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In a Daily Herald story Thursday, transportation and projects writer Marni Pyke reported that the 11 discipline cases of Metra engineers this year, eight of them involving safety issues, come as the Federal Railroad Administration continues its own review of three separate issues in the last three months of trains that may have been speeding or may have ignored a signal.

One needn't look far to find examples of the importance of such probes and of action to control safety violations on the rails.

Just last spring the Chicago Transit Authority fired an operator after a Blue Line train crashed through a barrier and came to rest on a terminal escalator. At least 30 people were injured in that case. It's pure good fortune that no one died.

Metra authorities did not shrink from responsibility for the seeming surge of discipline cases on the suburban rail line. Executive Director Don Orseno said it's too early to see evidence of a trend, but his comments seemed to reflect an understanding that no safety violation, regardless of how small it may seem or how infrequently it may occur, can be dismissed.

"It's a very unforgiving world," acknowledged Executive Director Don Orseno.

In other words, safety mistakes do not come in degrees. A stop just a few feet beyond a signal isn't just a technical error; it's a mistake that can have serious consequences for the health and safety of rail passengers. A train carrying hundreds of passengers at excessive speeds risks the life of every person on board.

The federal probe will provide a better idea of what led to the three violations in May and June, and its conclusions will help identify whether there are shortcomings in Metra's training and testing of engineers.

In the meantime, it's important to keep the Metra safety violations in perspective. Even if disciplinary actions continue to the end of 2014 at the same pace they've occurred so far, they'll still remain just about even with 2012.

But that doesn't diminish the seriousness with which Metra or its patrons should approach the issue.

After all, the danger passengers must worry about doesn't lie in the number of violations that don't result in a crash or injuries but in the one that does.

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