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Metro-North says it will go on ‘alternative schedule’ for PTC

October 4, 2018

WASHINGTON — Metro-North expects to get a two-year extension to fully implement positive train control, the futuristic GPS-like system designed to stop speeding trains and prevent rail disasters.

PTC, as it is commonly called, became a crucial issue in Connecticut after a series of Metro-North accidents, including the one in 2013 at Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx in which four died.

Congress mandated PTC in 2008 with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. Much to the chagrin of Connecticut lawmakers, that deadline got pushed back to Dec. 31, 2018, amid complaints from passenger and freight railroads that a transponder-satellite system of such complexity would take time to get up and running.

At a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, an official of the Government Accountability Office reported that three-quarters of passenger railroad lines — 21 of 29 — would apply for extensions that reset the deadline to Dec. 31, 2020.

The GAO didn’t single out specific rail lines but said eight anticipated being in full compliance by this year’s deadline. But even so, the accompanying report said the Federal Railroad Administration felt it was “unclear” whether even these lines would get PTC fully online by Dec. 31.

A Metro-North spokesman said Wednesday that the commuter line would successfully meet the FRA criteria for obtaining an extension, which he said is normally referred to in documents as an “alternative schedule.”

Metro-North has struggled to meet the succeeding deadlines for PTC, notwithstanding a $1 billion loan from the FRA in 2015. Officials there insist the major link between midtown Manhattan and New Haven, Bridgeport and Danbury has made great progress in building the system.

PTC for Metro-North involves track sensors, transponders and satellite relays aimed at automatically taking over trains that are speeding out of control or headed for collision.

“As of today, Metro-North has acquired 100 percent of (radio) spectrum, trained 95 percent of required employees and installed 92 percent of PTC hardware,” a Metro-North spokesman said Wednesday.

Metro-North expects to have a PTC demonstration project in place by Dec. 31 on its Hudson Line between Tarrytown and Croton-Harmon but not in Connecticut.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the committee who asked questions at the Wednesday hearing, said he was not satisfied with Metro-North’s level of progress.

“Let’s be clear about what an alternative (schedule) is — it’s an extension, plain and simple,” he said. “Anything less than full implementation of Positive Train Control by the Dec. 31 deadline is unacceptable. Passengers deserve better.”

dan@hearstdc.com

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