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LIRR, other railroads to seek extension on positive train control, officials say

Workers install positive train control equipment on the

Workers install positive train control equipment on the LIRR on Oct. 26, 2016. Credit: MTA

The Long Island Rail Road and most other commuter railroads will seek a two-year extension to complete installation of federally required crash prevention technology, officials said Thursday. 

At a congressional hearing on the progress made by all U.S. railroads required to have positive train control, lawmakers were told that just eight of 40 railroads were expected to meet the Dec. 31 deadline to fully implement the lifesaving technology said Susan Fleming, director of physical infrastructure issues for the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The rest will probably apply for an extension to complete their projects by as late as 2020.

Railroads using positive train control, also known as PTC, have radio transponders installed on tracks and trains that communicate with each other to automatically slow down or stop a train that is going too fast, is about to hit another train or violates a signal.

“Given that applying for an extension appears to be the general approach, rather than the exception to the upcoming deadline, much work will need to be accomplished to achieve full PTC implementation in the final two-year window,” Fleming said at the Washington, D.C. hearing, which took place a day after the 10th anniversary of the Metrolink commuter train accident in Chatsworth, California that led to the passage of the U.S. Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandating PTC.

That accident killed 25 people. Five years later, four people died when a Metro-North Railroad train derailed in the Bronx. The National Transportation Safety Board has said PTC could have prevented those, and many other, fatal train accidents.

“For every day that we go without PTC, we are at risk for another Chatsworth, another Bronx,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the hearing, adding the progress made by railroads in implementing the technology is “certainly not acceptable.”

Having faced multiple setbacks in its PTC efforts, including numerous failures of the technology in tests, the LIRR said earlier this year that it was shifting its focus from completing installation by the end of the year to meeting the minimum standards to qualify for a two-year extension — standards that include having the needed equipment installed, most employees trained and PTC operational on a segment of its rail system.

LIRR officials said Friday they had no doubt that they would have PTC in place systemwide by the end of 2020. The railroad has said its PTC effort was already about 80 percent complete.

Congress already extended the original 2015 deadline for railroads to complete PTC installations by three years. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) who chairs the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, made it clear that lawmakers’ “patience is growing thin.”

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