Crash-prevention braking system could be 4 years away on some Metra lines

  • Union Pacific Metra trains, like this one, and BNSF trains will be equipped with an automatic braking system first before other routes.

    Union Pacific Metra trains, like this one, and BNSF trains will be equipped with an automatic braking system first before other routes. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 2/3/2016 6:24 PM

Depending on what Metra line you take, you could be among the first or the last commuters in the nation to ride a train with a new crash-prevention braking system, Federal Railroad Administration data showed Wednesday.

Metra anticipates its BNSF Line will have positive train control in place at the end of 2016, with Union Pacific doing final testing on its three lines late this year followed by implementation. Those routes comprise more than 50 percent of riders.


But on Metra-operated lines, which include the Milwaukee District and North Central Service, the automatic braking system that stops a train when a crash or derailment is imminent won't appear until 2020, the railroad told the FRA this week.

After pressure from railroads, Congress extended the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline to implement positive train control to Dec. 31, 2018. Lawmakers also gave railroads an out by offering another deadline of 2020, although that is not guaranteed and would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Metra had threatened to shut down service if Congress didn't move the deadline, noting it's been hampered by insufficient funding for the $350 million to $400 million costs and the technological challenges of the project.

"Metra has been vocal about the tremendous financial, regulatory, operational and technological challenges we face in implementing PTC on our system -- which is the most complex of any railroad in the nation," spokesman Michael Gillis said.

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It's a different situation for Metra's freight partners, which have deeper pockets and are pioneering some of the groundbreaking technology.

Other railroads that won't be equipped with PTC until 2020 are Canadian National, CSX, Norfolk Southern, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and Central Florida Rail Corridor.

Railroads to be outfitted with PTC in 2018 include Canadian Pacific, Conrail, Amtrak, the Long Island Railroad, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Metro North Commuter Railroad. Metro North experienced a fatal derailment in 2013 that experts believe PTC could have prevented.

UP and BNSF also will complete PTC installation on their nationwide infrastructure by 2018.

"Positive Train Control prevents rail accidents and saves lives," FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg said. "We are encouraged that many railroads have submitted plans to meet -- some even to beat -- 2018. But we remain concerned that several other freight and passenger railroads are aiming for 2020."

Gillis said "once PTC is installed, our system will be in full compliance with the federal mandate and feature the latest, state-of-the-art technology to ensure the safety of our passengers."

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