Report shows concerns about NJ Transit missing year-end positive train control deadline
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
The Federal Railroad Administration reiterated its concerns Wednesday that NJ Transit may not make the positive train control deadline at the end of the year, according to a quarterly update report.
NJ Transit and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express are the only two railroads the FRA identified as "at risk of not fully implementing PTC on all required main lines," said an FRA press release about Quarter 2 updates. The same concerns were raised by the FRA about NJ Transit in the Quarter 1 progress report.
Two railroads — the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad and TEXRail — were removed from the at-risk list, the FRA statement said, because of "substantial progress in Quarter 2." That progress included entering revenue service demonstration, known as RSD, on 100% of their required lines. RSD is the phase when tests of the automatic-braking system can take place while the trains are running during normal service with passengers.
"We have been working closely with the FRA, and they have approved our implementation plan. We have a path toward full, successful PTC implementation by the federally mandated deadline of December 31, 2020," NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said in an email.
NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett and representatives from the contractors hired to help install PTC have repeatedly told the board in recent months that major milestones are being met and they are on target to meet the end-of-year deadline.
Parsons and Alstom are the two main companies contracted by NJ Transit to develop and install the technology.
In March, Ray Kenny, then the senior vice president and general manager of rail operations, said workers were able to accelerate progress on PTC because the coronavirus forced the agency to scale back its train schedule, which freed up tracks and locomotive engineers during the day for testing. Kenny died weeks later due to complications from the virus.
In June, the agency announced that it had completed the required 384 consecutive, error-free runs during RSD on the Morristown Line between Denville and Summit and began extending that testing to other lines. Agency officials also submitted their safety plan to the FRA on June 30, a plan that requires a minimum of six months to review by federal agency officials.
Terry Fetters, a project manager for Parsons, told the board in June that by the end of August the goal is to complete RSD on 50% of NJ Transit's track miles.
PTC is a complicated system of software, radios and transponders that communicate to slow trains when they should be braking around certain curves or stops, and became required technology for certain railroads in 2007.
NJ Transit narrowly made a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline to be eligible for an extension, which is the current Dec. 31, 2020, deadline. NJ Transit could face fines or have to suspend service if the deadline is not met.
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Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.