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OpinionEditorial

MTA must ride herd on crucial safety program

An image from a YouTube video published by

An image from a YouTube video published by the MTA on Oct. 26, 2016 shows how positive train control (PTC), will automatically slow a train. Credit: MTA/YouTube

The effort to install critically important safety technology on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad has met with an unacceptable litany of problems, failures and delays.

That’s primarily because contractors have made significant mistakes, haven’t fully staffed the $1 billion project, and don’t seem to grasp the urgency to get it done.

But the problem also illustrates the pressing need for overhauling the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — including how the authority oversees and manages its contracts.

The latest issue: the companies responsible for the installation of positive train control technology, known as PTC and designed partly to stop trains from colliding, recently had to recall 4,000 scanner antennas that had been installed on train cars. The devices wouldn’t operate correctly because they were not tested on a properly calibrated machine. During an MTA hearing last week, officials from the contractors admitted only one technician was responsible for both setting up the equipment and testing it, leaving no room for anyone to find errors.

So much for quality control.

The contractors — Bombardier Transportation and Siemens Rail Automation — share blame for the trouble. Meanwhile, MTA officials have stepped up how assiduously they’ve handled the project over the last year or so, but even that’s not enough. The error has gotten the MTA’s attention but their promises to strictly monitor the PTC work better be backed up by diligent oversight. And let it be a lesson, with so many capital projects in the works: Accountability for contractors and MTA management should be defined, and clearer standards and penalties for mistakes must be established.

It’s time to recalibrate. The editorial board

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