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MTA expected to get $1B loan to make commuter rail safer

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spoke Friday, April 24,

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spoke Friday, April 24, 2015, at the Association for a Better New York breakfast at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. Cuomo said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is on track to receive a $1 billion federal loan to make safety improvements on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is on track to receive a $1 billion federal loan for computer technology that seizes control of a wayward train before disaster can strike, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday.

Once installed on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, "positive train control," as it's called, can automatically slow, stop or redirect trains -- even if the engineer is incapacitated.

Officials said the $967.1 million in funding would be used to virtually eliminate human-caused crashes like the December 2013 Metro-North derailment at Spuyten Duyvil that killed four and injured scores when the engineer lost control.

The loan for the project -- expected to be done in 2017 or 2018 -- still must be approved by the MTA board at a meeting next week and approved by the federal government.

"It is the state-of-the-art safety design for the system, and it is something that is very important," Cuomo said at a breakfast meeting of business leaders.

The administration said the 22 1/2-year loan has a fixed interest rate of 2.38 percent.

Mitchell Pally, an MTA board member for Suffolk County, said the work involves acquiring radio frequencies, installing transponders and making improvements to the track, railcars and more.

Also at the breakfast -- held at the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan and sponsored by the Association for a Better New York -- the governor announced the expected reappointment of MTA chairman Tom Prendergast, whose term was set to expire.

"I didn't know this was happening, honestly didn't know," Prendergast said.

Speaking to reporters after Cuomo's speech, Prendergast noted the money would help the MTA create "a level of safety that is second to none," adding that it will help safety improvements for more than 1,455 railcars and 588 miles of track.

The federal government mandated in 2008 that all railroads adopt positive train control, a mandate that followed a deadly commuter rail accident in Los Angeles.

The MTA, citing cost, said such improvements would be hard to implement, but had been pushed forward under its 2015-19 capital plan. The deadline for implementation is supposed to be later this year, in December.

The funding will go a long way toward meeting that deadline goal, although Congress is expected to extend the deadline because many railroad systems across the country are unlikely to meet it.

Even with the $1 billion loan that Cuomo announced Friday, the MTA would still have a roughly $15 billion shortfall in its capital budget, which is used for needed repairs and upgrades to the region's transit network.

With John Valenti

The system

If a train . . .

-- Goes too fast

-- Is routed onto the wrong track

-- Follows too closely behind a train ahead of it

-- Goes out of control because the train engineer is incapacitated, such as by falling asleep

-- Is approaching a section of track where workers are doing maintenance

. . . "positive train control," proposed for MTA trains, will seize command and slow the train to safety

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