Three months after the MTA disbanded a class of Metro-North student conductors for alleged cheating, the I-Team has learned investigators are also looking into testing irregularities among student locomotive engineers.
Engineers are the personnel who operate the controls in train cockpits.
One Metro-North engineer who asked not to be identified for fear of employment retaliation said when he was a recent trainee he witnessed a testing session where instructors left the room for 30 to 40 minutes while students filled in answers, opening the door for potential cheating, he said..
"This was during an exam," he said. "You have 10 or 12 students in a room and everybody is just saying, ‘Hey what did you get for A?’ ‘What did you get for 2?’ Nobody is monitoring."
"Anyone can cheat," he added.
The engineer said he saw an email chain circulated last year among students that had test questions and answers identical to the questions and answers that would appear on engineer training program midterms and final exams.
The I-Team obtained a copy of that email chain, but Metro-North would not comment on whether the questions were identical to those that appear on the official exams.
Adam Lisberg, a spokesman for the MTA, confirmed there are questions about “testing issues involving Metro-North engineers.”
“The MTA Inspector General and MTA Police are conducting an investigation with full cooperation of Metro-North,” Lisberg said.
The questions about engineer testing and training come on the heels of a similar probe into cheating among student conductors. In July, the MTA fired a whole class of student conductors after allegations arose that someone had stolen a copy of a conductor training exam and passed it around. After that class was disbanded, some conductors complained they were dismissed even though they never looked at the stolen exam.
Conductors are the personnel that manage operations, direct passengers and collect tickets on trains.
In March, after a deadly derailment along the Hudson line, the Federal Railroad Administration released a comprehensive study of Metro-North safety called “Operation Deep Dive.” The report identified “an ineffective training program” as one of three major safety concerns that “affect all facets of Metro-North Railroad.”
The engineer who told NBC 4 New York about the email chain circulating with test questions and answers said one of the biggest problems with the training program is that the official test questions rarely change from year to year.
“Shame on Metro-North for not changing their answers or changing the order in which the questions are asked,” he said.
Citing the ongoing probe, the MTA had no comment on whether the current Metro-North engineer testing protocols are adequate.
Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, which advocates on behalf of Metro-North riders, said if the railroad isn’t already mixing up the testing questions and format it should make it a priority.
"They should be changing the test so that one group after another don’t see the same questions,” Cameron said. “More importantly there’s got to be zero tolerance for this kind of behavior. I think anybody caught circulating even previous tests should be disciplined."
John Hartwell, vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, another Metro-North watchdog, said the expanding probe into testing irregularities raises questions about the overall culture of training within Metro-North.
“The point of the test is to find out if you know the material,” Hartwell said. “If you give somebody the answers ahead of time the test is meaningless. It’s a huge concern.”
Follow Chris Glorioso on Twitter @glorioso4ny