Metro-North is telling federal regulators that it’s on course to fully install GPS-based safety technology by 2018, even though some of the country’s biggest freight railroads will take longer.
As part of its new strategy to hold the industry more accountable for establishing the “positive train control system,” the Federal Railroad Administration on Wednesday began publicly issuing progress reports for each railroad.
The two major passenger operators in Connecticut, Amtrak and Metro-North, advised the federal agency that they are on schedule to meet the 2018 deadline.
But CSX and Norfolk Southern, the two biggest freight railroads on the East Coast, are both telling regulators that they won’t be ready until 2020.
Under pressure from the railroad industry and freight shippers’ lobbyists, Congress last fall waived the 2015 deadline it had set years earlier and instead allowed railroads until December 2018 to put positive train control in place. It also said federal regulators could allow further extensions through 2020 on a case-by-case basis.
Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg has opposed further delays. On Wednesday she said she’s concerned that some railroads already appear to be counting on extensions through 2020.
“Positive train control prevents rail accidents and saves lives. We are encouraged that many railroads have submitted plans to meet — some even to beat — 2018,” Feinberg said. “But we remain concerned that several other freight and passenger railroads are aiming for 2020.”
At a rail industry conference in November, Feinberg cited Amtrak’s deadly 106 mph wreck last May as proof that the new safety system must be a priority.
“The Amtrak accident in Philadelphia remains a stark reminder of both what can happen without PTC, and the sense of urgency required to prevent a similar accident in the future,” she said, cautioning executives to view 2018 as “the absolute latest moment for implementation.”
The system is designed to steadily track trains and stop them when they exceed speed limits or come close to colliding. Installing it is a complex, multibillion-dollar task, but Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a prominent rail safety advocate, has said there’s no justification for more extensions.
“I call on all railroads to follow the leadership of others moving quickly — like Amtrak — and finish implementation immediately, without delay or excuse. Lives hang in the balance,” Blumenthal said.
Metro-North was plagued by derailments and fatal accidents in 2013, and investigators determined that positive train control could have prevented some of them. Railroad President Joseph Giulietti said in late January that Metro-North workers should have the system working in 2018.
Feinberg’s agency said it will release quarterly reports on the progress of each railroad. Union Pacific and BNSF, two of the country’s biggest freight operations, are both telling the FRA they will be ready in 2018.
The Hartford Courant