Sen. Chuck Schumer seeks extension on railroad safety technology

Commuter railroads under deadline to install new safety technology to prevent derailments could get an extension under a new bill Sens. Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut announced Sunday.

Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road would have until 2018 to install the safety system — called positive train control — that commuter lines around the country must have in place by this year.

“They can’t get it done by the end of this year,” Schumer said of the MTA. “We’re doing it in the quickest allowable time that they can get it done and get it done right.”

The senators called PTC a “miracle” system; it is designed to prevent train-on-train collisions and derailments caused by excessive speed. The system could have prevented the deadly 2013 Metro-North derailment in the Bronx, in which a conductor with sleep apnea who was working a new early shift had dozed off while speeding into a sharp curve.

The delays had been the result of the limited availability of radio spectrum from the Federal Communications Commission necessary for the track and train equipment to communicate with each other. Funding from the feds is already flowing to get PTC installed in Metro-North. The MTA’s 2015 capital improvement plan calls for $196 million to complete PTC on Metro-North and LIRR.

MTA spokeswoman Meredith Daniels said PTC is being installed “as quickly as possible.”

“A fundamental component of the installation is a pilot to demonstrate the technology works as designed,” she said. “We continue to work with the FRA as we move forward with this pilot and PTC installation.”

A rep for the Federal Railroad Administration did not immediately return a request for comment.

The senators’ bill would let the FRA penalize railroads for missing the 2018 deadline and require progress reports. The mandate for positive train control would also cover freight rails that haul oil and ethanol.

The senators said other bills to extend the deadline would give railroads too much time to implement the technology.

“Positive train control will help prevent fatal crashes on passenger and freight trains, so it’s of utmost importance to install the technology ASAP,” Schumer said.