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Schumer: New train safety technology delays ‘unacceptable’

The MTA is spending $1 billion to install

The MTA is spending $1 billion to install positive train control, which increases safety by using radio transponders on trains and tracks to prevent crashes. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pressured the MTA on Sunday to ramp up installation of automated safety technology on trains, including on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, after the agency warned it might miss its current project deadline.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is spending $1 billion to install the system, known as positive train control (PTC), which increases safety by using radio transponders on trains and tracks to prevent crashes.

After already experiencing years of delays, the agency this month announced it had missed several scheduled milestones this summer.

“We’ve seen the tragedies that have occurred, with derailments, collisions and so many other incidents that have occurred over the last year or two throughout the metropolitan area,” Schumer (D-New York) said at a news conference in Grand Central Terminal. Positive train control “will save countless lives,” he said.

“Originally the date we set was 2015. [MTA officials] said they needed three more years — 2018,” Schumer said. “But now they’re saying they need more time and that is unacceptable.”

The senator, who helped secure funding for the project, said he still believes the MTA can get the system operational according to its current timeline, set for the end of 2018.

In a statement, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan, said, ‘‘Our customers’ and employees’ safety is our absolute top priority.’’ The agency ‘‘is moving aggressively to install Positive Train Control on our railroads,” he added.

With the project only half-complete, Catherine Rinaldi, acting president of Metro-North, warned at a board meeting last week that “the risks are significant” for missing the deadline.

MTA officials told the agency’s board that the agency would aim to have enough of the system in place to be in compliance with the federal law, and noted that they could “request an alternate schedule” to finish the project.

Still, Rinaldi said at the meeting that the agency will push to meet its current goal.

“We’re going to try . . . to have it in place by 2018,” Rinaldi said. “We’re not letting up on the gas at all.”

With Alfonso A. Castillo

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