WASHINGTON – Railroads including BNSF, Canadian Pacific Railway and Long Island Rail Road expect to meet a new congressional deadline of 2018 to install automatic braking along their tracks, according to a schedule the Federal Railroad Administration released Wednesday.
But a number of railroads, including CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern andMassachusetts Bay Transit Authority are aiming to adopt the technology by 2020, which would require special permission from the secretary of transportation, according to FRA.
FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg has voiced frustration with the pace of automatic braking for trains, a system called positive train control. Federal crash investigators said the system would have prevented a fatal Amtrak crash in Philadelphia in May 2015.
“Positive train control prevents rail accidents and saves lives,” Feinberg said. “We are encouraged that many railroads have submitted plans to meet – and some even beat – 2018. But we remain concerned that several other freight and passenger railroads are aiming for 2020.”
Her agency plans to publish quarterly reports about the progress railroads are making.
In 2008, Congress set a deadline of December 2015 for all railroads to deploy the technology along tracks and in locomotives. The system keeps track of local speed limits and can automatically slow down a train if an engineer doesn’t respond.
The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended braking technology for 45 years that spanned 146 accidents or derailments that could have been avoided, with at least 300 fatalities and 7,000 injuries.
But in October, as many railroads were threatening to close down for their inability to meet the deadline, Congress postponed the deadline to 2018.
Commuter railroads have spent at least $950 million out of at least $3.48 billion the system will cost, according to the American Public Transportation Association, which doesn’t include Amtrak.
The Association of American Railroads has spent nearly $6 billion on deploying the system since 2008 and expects to spend $9 billion total. By the end of 2014, the industry has equipped about 50% of its locomotives and installed 56% of the trackside equipment.
Besides the cost, difficulties included obtaining radio spectrum for the technology from the Federal Communications Commission and negotiating issues about installing equipment along tracks crossing Native American lands.
“The freight rail industry continues to work all-out on (positive train control) testing and installation, and to move this complex safety system from concept to nationwide reality on roughly 60,000 miles of track as quickly as possible,” said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads.
Amtrak met the 2015 deadline on the track it owns in the Northeast corridor, and expects to complete its entire system by 2018. But that left a 57-mile section of track north of New York City owned by Metro-North without the system, which it aims to complete by 2018, according to FRA.
Railroads that expect to complete the system in 2016 include: San Diego Northern Railway, Portland and Western Railroad and Southern California Regional Rail Authority.
The federal government has provided $650 million to passenger railroads to help install the equipment, according to FRA. The government also issued a nearly $1 billion loan to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to implement the technology on Long Island Railroad and Metro-North.
“The Federal Railroad Administration will continue to do everything it can to help railroads install and activate this life-saving technology as quickly and safely as possible,” Feinberg said.