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Railroad report says LIRR still a ways off on hitting positive train control metric

The Long Island Rail Road must have positive

The Long Island Rail Road must have positive train control in place by the end of 2020, or risk steep fines. Credit: MTA

Potentially lifesaving crash prevention technology is in place on nearly three-quarters of the Long Island Rail Road, but the railroad still has a ways to go to make its “positive train control” system interoperable with Amtrak, a new report said.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s “PTC Implementation Status Update” for the second quarter found that the LIRR, through June 30, had positive train control operational on 72.1% of its territory.

Positive train control, also known as PTC, was ordered by Congress in 2008 — after a California train crash — to prevent rail collisions by automatically slowing down or halting trains that violate stop signals.

The LIRR, which twice has been granted extensions to the original 2015 federal deadline, must have PTC in place by the end of 2020 or risk steep fines.

According to the FRA, the LIRR has equipped all its trains and tracks with the required PTC equipment, and trained all its employees. But the report also found that the LIRR is well behind most other railroads when it comes to making its PTC system work seamlessly with those of other railroads sharing its tracks, as required by federal law. In the category of “interoperability,” the FRA reported the LIRR’s progress as “0.0%.”

LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan took issue with the FRA’s metric, noting the railroad has made significant progress in achieving interoperability with the only other railroad with whom it shares tracks — Amtrak.

“That project remains on schedule,” LIRR president Phillip Eng said at a July 22 meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board. “I’m proud of our project team and our workforce, as they continue to execute during this pandemic.”

Since the end of the second quarter, the LIRR has made further progress on the project, and now has PTC operable throughout about 76% of its system, according to Eng. That number will reach about 90% shortly, Eng added.

Nationally, only seven of the 42 railroads under the federal mandate had completed installation of their PTC systems by June 30, according to the FRA. However, the FRA only considers two railroads in the United States as being “at risk” of not fully implementing PTC by the end of this year — the New Mexico Rail Runner Express and New Jersey Transit, which shares Penn Station with the LIRR and Amtrak.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory, in a statement, applauded all the railroads for their efforts to get “to the finish line.”

“I am highly pleased by the amount of progress railroads have made moving toward fully implementing PTC systems," Batory said. “While more work lies ahead, the significant advancements made thus far are encouraging.”

State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) chided the MTA — the railroad's parent organization — for pushing the deadline as much as it already has.

"The MTA is embarrassingly behind other major railroads in meeting this deadline, and the safety of riders and workers is at stake," Gaughran said. "I urge MTA leadership to get their head in the game and ensure they and their contractors meet the December deadline."

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