Crime is one problem the troubled Metro-North does not have. But Tuesday's news of a Metro-North employee masturbating on a female passenger who was napping on an early morning train from Grand Central was so awful as to raise the question of safety on the train.
"It was an isolated, unique and extremely unfortunate incident," railroad spokesman Marjorie Anders said. "Crime of all kinds is rare, almost nonexistent on Metro-North trains."
Metro-North officials including outgoing president Howard Permut expressed dismay that one of their own had been accused of acting in such a deviant manner, but cast the lewd and sordid incident as an anomaly on a railway where crime on trains and in stations is uncommon, and procedures are established to send an immediate police response to head off the potential escape of thieves, attackers and other suspects.
Indeed, the numbers of serious crimes reported on the trains or Metro-North property are low, given the numbers of people who ride the trains. For all of Metro-North, including its Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines west of the Hudson, there have been 40 felony assaults, one rape and no murders since 2010, according to records filed with the railroad's board. The serious crime that happens the most is larceny, with 419 reported since 2010. Lesser crimes that are not felony offenses were not included in the numbers.
The public indecency and breach of peace charges against Manny Ramos, of Brooklyn, N.Y., are all misdemeanors -- not felonies. He was released on $1,000 bond.
The fact that he is a Metro-North employee is disturbing, but Anders said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority vigorously screens its job applicants.
All MTA job applicants are subject to pre-employment background checks by outside vendor Sterling Infosystems to verify claimed educational qualifications as well as their previous work experience, drug testing, as well as driving and criminal records, Anders said.
Ramos' background check showed he had no criminal record, Anders said. He was hired as a car cleaner in 2011, and had been in the engineer-in-training program since March 2013.
Admission to the 13-month engineer-in-training program is fairly rigorous, as is ongoing training efforts, said Anthony Bottalico, general chairman of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, which represents engineers.
Depending on their specialty, railroad employees can be subject to a different range and scope of tests that go to great lengths to parse their psychological makeup, values and personality, in addition to criminal, financial or credit problems, Bottalico said.
Even just concerns about an applicant's credit history can scuttle a job bid to be a conductor or ticket agent where the honesty of workers handling money is a major priority for human resource specialists, Bottalico said.
Bottalico said that in his 30-plus-year career he cannot remember an employee being arrested for a violent or lewd crime.
"More often you hear about passengers assaulting conductors," Bottalico said.
Both engineers and conductors undergo a so-called Hogan Psychological Profile exam which attempts to predict whether the applicant has the right attributes to succeed in the job. In the case of engineers, to an extent the test is used to determine if the candidate is an introvert, which is considered a positive indicator of their ability to handle steering the train.
"If you're looking at conductors who are going to deal with passengers, they want them to be more extroverted, but a locomotive engineer who spends a lot of time in an enclosed, confined space they look for someone who is perhaps more introverted," Bottalico said.