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Blumenthal: Metro-North 'Lagging Woefully' Behind On PTC Safety Upgrades

Four people were killed when a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx near the Spuyten Duyvil station in December 2013.
Four people were killed when a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx near the Spuyten Duyvil station in December 2013. Photo Credit: File

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – After the Federal Railroad Administration released new data on Positive Train Control measures, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is questioning Metro-North’s poor performance and failure to make meaningful progress on installing the technology.

“FRA’s report card shows Metro-North lagging woefully behind other railroads in its implementation of PTC, indicating a lack of progress that portends noncompliance with upcoming deadlines. There is no excuse for Metro-North’s failure to meet the legal deadline for implementing this life-saving technology,” said Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in a statement Monday.

“The railroad industry has already been gifted one deadline delay too many. After eight years, the advances on spectrum show that they can no longer try to shift blame for delay to federal agencies. Instead, they must take responsibility for their failure to invest in this vital technology at the peril of workers, passengers and freight.”

In August, after a progress report revealed that Metro-North has made almost no progress in implementing PTC technology, Blumenthal urged the railroad to end its delays and confirm that it will meet a December 2018 deadline to install the system.

PTC technology would have prevented the deaths of four Metro-North passengers in a derailment at Spuyten Duyvil in New York in December 2013, and more than 300 other deaths nationwide since 1970, when the National Transportation Safety Board first urged railroads to implement it.

Despite the technology’s proven track record, PTC is operational nowhere on Metro-North’s 384 miles of track, and according to Monday’s report the railroad has made little progress over the past 12 months towards installing the system.

“Metro-North should be leading the way – a model of timely, sound investment, not safety delay. The Spuyten Duyvil disaster was a red flag for this railroad, but Metro-North seems to have missed the signal, and it apparently will miss another timetable,” Blumenthal wrote in the letter to Metro North President Joseph Giulietti.

In October, Blumenthal also wrote FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg questioning whether a deadly crash at the Hoboken Terminal station – killing one person and injuring 110 others – could have been prevented by the implementation of PTC.

In his letter, Blumenthal raised serious concerns regarding the FRA’s possibly outdated practice of exempting terminal facilities from implementing the technology. The FRA exempted the Hoboken Terminal station from implementing PTC in 2010, and gave similar waivers to terminals in Waterbury, New Canaan, South Norwalk, and Danbury, as well as Grand Central Terminal.

PTC was first urged by the National Transportation Safety Board in 1970 after a tragic train collision in Darien. It is a GPS-based system designed to prevent certain types of train accidents caused by human factors.

Since it was first recommended, the absence of PTC has been linked to the deaths of hundreds and the injuries of thousands. In 2008, Congress mandated railroads install PTC by the end of 2015; however, Congress extended the deadline last year to 2020.

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