Senator Durbin Asks Metra to Clarify Position on New Safety System

WASHINGTON, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–December 5, 2013. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today called on the Metra Board of Directors to clarify their position on implementing Positive Train Control (PTC) – a communications-based system designed to prevent certain types of train accidents caused by human factors – and report back to the Illinois Congressional Delegation with recommendations.

“Meeting the federal deadline of implementing PTC will be challenging.  The Federal Railroad Administration has offered suggestions to Congress on ways to continue making progress on PTC implementation without unconditional multi-year extensions of the current deadline.  I have also worked diligently to make sure federal grant and financing opportunities, such as TIGER grants and Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement loans, can be used for PTC implementation,” wrote Durbin. 

“I believe commuters, workers and the Illinois congressional delegation can benefit from the Board clarifying Metra’s position on PTC.  The former Executive Director was “firmly committed” to meeting the federal deadline for PTC implementation.  However, Metra has since made public statements supporting a multiple year extension of the deadline without conditions.  The recent crash in New York is an opportunity for the new leadership at Metra to reconsider its position on PTC.”

Following a 2008 fatal train crash in California, Congress mandated – as part of the Amtrak and Rail Safety bill – that Amtrak, commuter rail carriers and Class I railroads must install PTC systems on tracks that carry passengers or toxic-by-inhalation materials by January 1, 2016. 

Calls for PTC have been renewed in the wake of last week’s New York Metro North crash that was likely due to the driver missing several speed and signal warnings and hitting a sharp turn at excessive speed.  According to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board, PTC may have helped avoid this crash by automatically slowing the train down in that situation. 

Text of today’s letter is below:

December 5, 2013

John E. Partelow
Acting Chairman
Metra Board of Directors
547 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60661

Dear Acting Chairman Partelow and Metra Board Directors:

I write to ask Metra to clarify its position on implementing Positive Train Control (PTC) by January 1, 2016.  Congress mandated this safety technology be installed on rail lines with heavy passenger and hazardous material traffic by then, although some in the industry are now asking Congress to delay that implementation deadline. 

PTC would have prevented two derailments that occurred on Metra trains in 2003 and 2005.  These two crashes resulted in two fatalities, almost 200 injuries and millions in legal costs to Metra.   Several safety experts have also said last week’s fatal rail accident in New York could have been avoided if PTC were fully installed along those tracks.

Metra is moving beyond the serious management and financial challenges of the last few years.  The Board now has newly appointed leadership, with more than half of the current Directors being named since the last Chairman resigned.  The new Board has been busy revisiting past Metra practices and policies, and I believe commuters, workers and the Illinois congressional delegation can benefit from the Board clarifying Metra’s position on PTC.

The former Executive Director was “firmly committed” to meeting the federal deadline for PTC implementation.  However, Metra has since made public statements supporting a multiple year extension of the deadline without conditions.  The recent crash in New York is an opportunity for the new leadership at Metra to reconsider its position on PTC.

Meeting the federal deadline of implementing PTC will be challenging.  The Federal Railroad Administration has offered suggestions to Congress on ways to continue making progress on PTC implementation without unconditional multi-year extensions of the current deadline.  I have also worked diligently to make sure federal grant and financing opportunities, such as TIGER grants and Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement loans, can be used for PTC implementation.  More can be done to assist commuter railroads to implement PTC, and I stand ready to work with you to make sure more opportunities and resources are available to achieve the highest level of safety for Metra commuters and workers.

The Metra Board is scheduled to meet again on Friday, December 13, 2013.  I encourage you to take this opportunity to discuss your position on PTC implementation and report back to the Illinois Delegation with your recommendations for the future of PTC on Metra.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin

Source: durbin.senate.gov