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System to Prevent Train Accidents May Come to Metro-North

The governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, announced last week that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) may receive a $1 billion loan from the federal government to help prevent train accidents like the December 2013 derailment that killed four people in the Bronx. Known as a positive train control system (PCT), the technology would monitor the speed and location of every train and slow it down without operator involvement.

The money would be delivered in the form of a low-interest loan (under three percent) that would be paid off over 22 ½ years. The loan must still be approved by the Federal Railroad Administration and the board of the MTA.

The accident that killed four people and injured many others occurred when a Metro North commuter train hit a tight curve near Spuyten Duyvil at 82 mph, more than 50 mph over the speed limit for that curve. The train flipped off the track because the engineer had fallen asleep and failed to apply the brakes.

The safety system will improve safety by practically eliminating accidents caused by speeding. Installing this system is required by law (see below), but the MTA has been unable to assemble the needed money.

PCT has been around since the late 1980s, and Congress has set a deadline of December 31, 2015 for installation of the technology on most railroads in the United States. However, several lines have applied for extensions, which could lead to longer implementation times across the U.S. freight and passenger rail network.

Control systems such as PCT are either planned or in use on passenger and commuter train routes in Boston, New Jersey, and on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. Many U.S. freight lines, including BNSF, CSX, Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific have installed some type of train control system on some trains. If the loan announced by Gov. Cuomo comes through, the PCT system will be installed on 1,400 Metro-North trains.