On the problem with unfunded federal safety mandatesBy
Over the years, I’ve mentioned the ways in which the federal government overreacts when it comes to rail safety. High-profile train accidents are so few and far between that the feds seem to deem them great failures that require immediate legislative responses. If only our representatives were so attuned to the problems of pedestrian safety.
Anyway, a few years ago, a train accident in California that caused the deaths of 25 passengers set off a flurry of action. Investigators determined that the train operator was texting while driving and failed to stop at a red light. The solution: Require all rail roads to implement Positive Train Control, a costly technology that doesn’t really even exist in a form usable by the most heavily trafficked commuter lines. Amtrak has spent an exorbitant amount of money on it and likely will not meet the federally-mandated 2015 deadline. The MTA is struggling with the unfunded mandate as well, The Post reported.
Jennifer Fermino had more:
A federally mandated safety program that will cost at least $750 million has forced the MTA to put off upgrades that would benefit millions of riders on the LIRR and Metro-North, The Post has learned. The improvements would have eased crowded train cars, reduced delays and increased parking spots, sources said. But instead, the MTA is being forced to spend money on a system called Positive Train Control, which must be installed by 2015. It’s even more outrageous because the agency has already spent $1 billion on safety upgrades that make Metro-North and LIRR the safest commuter railroads in the nation.
Still, to meet the deadline, the MTA has had to defer a host of rider-friendly projects. That includes signal upgrade work on Metro-North’s upper Harlem and Hudson lines, which would allow officials to run more trains in a shorter period of time and reduce delays. It will also defer the addition of electrical substations on the upper Harlem line, which will give officials the juice needed to run longer trains that would ease rider overcrowding. The Long Island Rail Road, meanwhile, has shelved plans to expand and add parking at busy stations…
The MTA’s preliminary estimates for PTC, which allows a computer to reduce a train’s speed in a number of situations, will cost $750 million for both railroads combined. But a recent MTA analysis found the true cost could soar to $1 billion, in part because the technology will have to be specially adapted to suit the nation’s two largest and busiest commuter rail systems. Adding to the cost, much of the software and hardware needed to install PTC in New York — which includes retrofitting 1,200 miles of track and 1,000 rail cars — hasn’t even been developed yet.
With many agencies looking at few options, price tags will be significantly higher than they should be as well. “All the railroads in the Northeast simultaneously are having to do the same thing in a very small industry, so there’s clearly going to be a lack of competition” Metro-North President Howard Permut said last week.
The MTA failed to get a exemption two years ago and will now lobby the FRA for a compliance extension to 2018. No matter the outcome, the authority will have to spend money it doesn’t really have on a technology it doesn’t need. And this is why I grow wary every time the feds start talking about subway safety regulations or rail standards. It’s a hindrance to good oversight and future growth.