Positive Train Control or PTC, the technology that can automatically slow trains in dangerous sections of track, will not be installed in the Metro-North rail system for another two years after federal regulators gave the railroad a deadline extension.
Metro-North, the New York City-based commuter rail operated by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), was supposed to have PTC up and running on all of its trains by Dec. 31, 2018. The rail says it has achieved critical benchmarks in its implementation of PTC technology across its 800 miles of track, but it needs more time to complete installation and run tests.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) granted Metro-North a waiver that extends the deadline by two years, frustrating some local lawmakers and other PTC advocates who have pushed for the technology amid a series of deadly Metro-North train crashes that might have been prevented with PTC.
“Right now, it looks like two things will happen here in New York on December 31st at 11:59 pm: the Times Square Ball will drop to ring in the New Year and LIRR and Metro-North will have dropped the ball to fully install Positive Train Control by this year — and the latter is nothing to celebrate,” Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday, according to the Rockland/Westchester Journal News.
Metro-North currently relies on civil speed enforcement technology, a less-developed form of PTC that uses track circuitry to alert engineers to slow trains when they are speeding. PTC uses GPS to track trains and modify speed along certain track sections if necessary.
In 2008, Congress mandated PTC be installed on U.S. rail systems by the end of 2015, after a Los Angeles commuter train collided with a freight train in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people and injuring several more. The deadline for PTC was ultimately pushed to the end of 2018.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for “automatic train control” decades before, in 1969, when two Penn Central commuter trains crashed into each other in Darien, Connecticut, killing four people and injuring 43.
Railroad data obtained by the Associated Press showed that nearly 300 people have been killed and several thousand maimed in 150 U.S. train crashes that could have been prevented had rail companies installed the PTC that federal safety investigators have been urging for decades.
Among those deadly crashes was a 2013 Metro-North train crash in the Bronx that killed four people and injured dozens more. Investigators said that train flew off the rails at 82 mph after its engineer, William Rockefeller, fell asleep at the controls.