President signs law extending deadline for train brake job
After months of intense pressure on Congress and threats to shut down train service, including Metra, a bill extending the deadline for railroads to install an automatic braking system became law Thursday.
Known as positive train control, the technology will cost Metra more than $350 million to install. The House and Senate approved the extension from Dec. 31, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2018, earlier this week and sent it to President Obama, who signed it Thursday.
Railroads across the U.S. have griped about the price tag for PTC and how complicated it is. PTC is so new railroads are learning as they go along, industry leaders say.
In September, Metra board directors warned they would shut down Jan. 1 because it would be illegal for them to operate if lawmakers didn't push back the implementation deadline.
Meanwhile, shippers and manufacturers also increased pressure on Washington by talking about canceling shipments of hazardous materials, including chemicals used by water treatment plants, in November if no action was taken.
Metra has budgeted about $34 million for installing and developing PTC in 2016.
The Union Pacific and BNSF railroads are expected to finish equipping their Metra lines with PTC in advance of 2019.
Metra officials said they would do everything possible to meet the Dec. 31, 2018 deadline.
The automatic braking program will override an engineer and stop a train if there's a pending crash.
Congress mandated the safety system in 2008 after a fatal train crash in Southern California.