NJ Transit met safety deadline. But it had to do some weird things
NJ Transit and Amtrak operate the major passenger rail lines in the state. NorthJersey.com
Yes, NJ Transit finished the required work on a safety system before the Dec. 31 deadline. But riders may see a few unusual arrangements, temporarily, because of it.
First, NJ Transit has leased seven electric locomotives from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. SEPTA retired the locomotives last year, but they are equipped for positive train control, the system the nation's commuter railroads were required to install.
According to SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch, NJ Transit is leasing the locomotives for six months at $250 per unit per day. That totals $52,500 a month, or $315,000 for six months.
It's not an unprecedented move: NJ Transit leased locomotives and cars from the Maryland Department of Transportation earlier this year to ease equipment shortages. Some trains on the Raritan Valley Line bore the logos of MARC, which operates commuter trains out of Baltimore and Washington.
In 2016, when SEPTA needed to make emergency repairs to some of its newer trains, the agency leased equipment from NJ Transit and other commuter railroads.
In another move that may seem puzzling, NJ Transit has been operating empty train cars in front of locomotives on some trains. These empty cars are equipped with positive train control, allowing the trains to use locomotives that still lack the technology.
In a note to riders last month, NJ Transit said the empty cars would not be available to riders, "due to safety and operational reasons."
The agency had to hustle last year to finish the required work on positive train control.
The system is intended to prevent collisions and derailments by automatically braking trains to account for slow-speed curves or stop signals.
Congress required the system in 2008. NJ Transit and other commuter railroads aren't completely finished with installing it. They met enough of the requirements by the end of December to qualify for an extension. All work must be completed by the end of 2020.
What is positive train control?
Positive train control is a collision-avoidance system required by Congress in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
Lawmakers enacted the requirement after a head-on collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, California.
Twenty-five people were killed, including the Metrolink engineer, whose cellphone records showed he was texting before the crash. His train had run past a stop signal into the freight train’s path, the kind of error that positive train control is designed to prevent.
The 2008 law required the system’s installation on all passenger-train routes and on freight lines with high volumes of hazardous materials shipments by December 2015.
Citing the system’s cost and complexity, railroad industry groups lobbied lawmakers for a three-year extension, and they got it.
However, not every commuter or freight railroad will have positive train control by the new deadline, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Trinity Railway Express, a commuter railroad in Dallas-Fort Worth, won’t have its system ready until 2019, and three others, including Boston’s MBTA, won’t be ready until 2020.
Additionally, three of North America’s largest freight carriers, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National, won’t have positive train control fully installed until 2020.
The Positive Train Control system (PTC) uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains, and automatically enforce speed limits, and emergency stops. By Frank Pompa and Ramon Padilla, USA TODAY