Braking deadline looms for Metra, other agencies

  • Metra and other railroads will be in hot water if they don't install an automatic braking system by 2016.

    Metra and other railroads will be in hot water if they don't install an automatic braking system by 2016. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 6/24/2015 9:41 PM

Metra and most other railroads won't meet a Dec. 31 deadline to install an automatic braking system known as positive train control, industry executives told Congress Wednesday.

Does that mean trains that pick up commuters and transport goods are breaking the law as of Jan. 1, 2016? Or will commerce and transit by rail grind to halt on New Year's Day?


Metra Executive Director Don Orseno said commuter railroads are hoping for deadline waivers provided they've acted in good faith.

In the meantime, the industry is puzzling over the legal liability of operating without positive train control in 2016, said Orseno, chairman of commuter rail for the American Public Transportation Association.

"If the railroad has to close down because of liability and insurance issues ... for (Metra) it would put 300,000 passengers on roads that are already congested, and that would not be a good solution," Orseno told members of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

The cost of positive train control, technical difficulties and the time it takes to install have delayed the process, executives said.

But Federal Railroad Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said the agency had helped with funding and repeatedly warned of the deadline. The agency is ready to punish scofflaws with daily fines come Jan. 1.

Metra last fall proposed a 10-year program of regular fare increases to pay for operating costs and capital needs including positive train control.

"It's not in the public's best interests to fine the railroads," Orseno testified. "The challenge on the commuter rail side is the higher you raise fares, the less likely you are to retain all your ridership."

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Congressman Dan Lipinski, a Western Springs Democrat, said lawmakers needed to secure more federal funds.

"We all want to find villains ... but this situation is very complex," he said.

Positive train control is triggered in cases of an imminent crash and was mandated in 2008 after a fatal collision in California.

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