The MTA is nearing an agreement with the contractors behind the LIRR’s positive train control project in which the contractor would cover the costs of missing a federal deadline to have the train crash prevention technology in place, officials said Friday.
MTA general counsel Thomas Quigley, at a Friday meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board in Manhattan, said the agency has reached an agreement in principle with Bombardier Transportation and Siemens — the firms hired in 2013 to develop positive train control systems on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North — to cover “any actual damages” incurred by the railroads if they don’t have the technology fully installed by December 2020, as required by federal law.
In exchange, Quigley said, the MTA would agree not go forward with “debarment” proceedings against Siemens and Bombardier that would disqualify them from future consideration for MTA contracts.
“All parties have been working in good faith, but the devil is in the details,” said Quigley, adding he was “cautiously optimistic” the deal would be finalized.
Under the U.S. Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which stemmed from a Chatsworth, California, commuter train crash that killed 25 people, railroads were required to have PTC in place by the end of 2015. When it became apparent that most railroads could not meet the deadline, federal lawmakers agreed to push it to 2018. Having encountered various delays, the LIRR last year sought and was granted another extension, until 2020, to complete the project. Missing the deadline could result in fines as high as $27,904 a day.
PTC works by having antennas on trains communicate with radio transponders installed along tracks to automatically slow down or stop a train that goes too fast or violates a signal.
Following a series of technical blunders in the $1 billion project, Siemens and Bombardier in May offered new assurances that they would do whatever was necessary to complete the project on time. MTA officials held over the contractor’s head its new “debarment” powers given to the agency by the State Legislature earlier this year. The statute allows the MTA to cut ties with contractors that fail to complete projects on time or on budget.
In a statement, Bombardier and Siemens said the pending agreement is a testament to the contractors’ confidence they will meet the deadline.
“. . . The Consortium continues to collaborate in good faith on an agreement that reinforces our commitment to helping the MTA achieve the deadline and to ensuring our mutual goal of providing safe, reliable and efficient transportation for the Railroads’ passengers,” the contractors said. “The Consortium’s efforts should in no way be interpreted as an admission the MTA has any grounds for initiation of debarment proceedings.”
Some MTA Board members weren’t keen on the potential of taking debarment off the table, noting the contractors had failed to make good on several past assurances of meeting milestones in the project. But nonvoting board member Randy Glucksman, who represents Metro-North riders, warned the agency against jeopardizing the future of the PTC project by alienating the contractors.
“We don’t have another choice. We need them, and they need us,” Glucksman said. “So, please, find some other project to pick on.”