NY: Metro-North to Get Safety System 2 Years Sooner

April 29--The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to spend $11.3 million more than originally budgeted to put Positive Train Control on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road lines by 2017, according to a release issued Monday.

The original contract for PTC was $428.5 million with Bombardier Transportation/Siemens Rail Automation. The MTA board will vote on the new contract Wednesday.

"Bearing in mind that the safety of our customers is the top priority of the MTA and its railroads, we are taking careful steps to accelerate the implementation of this important technology," said MTA Chairman Thomas F. Prendergast in the release.

"Positive Train Control will provide a strong layer of safety over our existing systems. It aims to eliminate the risk of accidents from train-vs.-train collisions or derailments resulting from excessive speed around curves. We support this technology and we want our customers to begin benefiting from it sooner rather than later."

Required by Congress, PTC has come into prominence because of a major derailment in December in the Bronx, N.Y., which killed four after the engineer nodded off. The extra money will allow 474 Metro-North cars to be retrofitted by April 2017, two years ahead of schedule.

Positive Train Control automatically stops trains at red signals if they are exceeding speed limits, the release said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was critical of the MTA's plan.

"While I applaud the MTA for the increased investment in the safety of its rail lines, Metro-North riders should not have to wait until 2017 for Positive Train Control -- critical, life-saving technology that most likely would have prevented the catastrophic deaths of four passengers in the [Bronx] derailment," he said in a statement.

He said a 2008 federal law required the MTA to install PTC by 2015, "and the modest additional investment announced today does little to make up for years of foot-dragging and inaction. It is long past time for the MTA to complete this work, and to immediately adopt the other important safety measures I and many others have been calling for," the statement said.

Also Monday, Metro-North issued new schedules, effective May 11, that are "designed to provide substantially improved performance and reliability while accommodating new safety measures," according to a statement.

Metro-North said 96 percent of westbound morning peak customers will have a shorter commute, with 700 trains each weekday on the three lines.

"Our first goal, now and always, is to provide a safe service," said Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti in the statement. "This train schedule supports our ongoing efforts to serve our customers while providing our maintenance forces the time they need to inspect, maintain and repair the system."

Giulietti said the schedule will be more reliable. "We have analyzed train performance with an eye to bottlenecks, permanent speed reductions, actual running times, customer requests and the need to provide sufficient time to allow ongoing track and infrastructure improvements. We believe the new schedule will result in substantially improved performance," Giulietti said.

Among changes, the new timetable brings back traditional morning peak arrival times at Grand Central Terminal. Changes that had included later arrivals resulted in customers switching to earlier trains, the release said.

All four tracks between Bridgeport and Southport will be in service next month for the first time in four years. State Department of Transportation contractors have replaced catenary lines and rebuilt four bridges, the statement said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement, "While a step in the right direction, the new schedule falls short on delivering commitments to increase the frequency of trains and minimize travel time. It's been almost a full year since the derailment in Bridgeport and since then, New Haven Line customers have been enduring longer, less reliable train service.

He said "Metro-North has placed the appropriate priority on rebuilding and maintaining the New Haven Line to ensure safety as its number one goal, and in turn Connecticut has completed a major portion of upgrades to the overhead catenary power lines and railroad bridges, along with several power supply upgrade and redundancy projects."

Malloy added that Prendergast and Giulietti have promised to work with the DOT "to prepare schedule proposals that go beyond today's changes, with an eye toward even better service by the fall."

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