NJ Transit is the only agency in the country still considered 'at risk' of missing PTC deadline
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The Federal Railroad Administration named NJ Transit as the single commuter rail line in the country it considers "at risk" of not meeting the Dec. 31 deadline for positive train control, according to the agency's third-quarter update Wednesday.
This comes less than a week after NJ Transit officials and its positive train control contractors voiced confidence in the agency's ability to install the mandated braking technology before the end of the year.
If the system is not certified by the FRA in time, NJ Transit could have to shut down service and could face $27,000-a-day fines.
At issue is that NJ Transit continues to lag in the advanced testing phases of several of its train lines. Specifically, this includes testing while passengers are on board, known as extended revenue service demonstration (ERSD), and ensuring NJ Transit's PTC system can operate with other rail organization's PTC systems, like Amtrak and Conrail, known as interoperability.
The North Jersey Coast Line is scheduled to begin ERSD on Thursday, while the Atlantic City line and Southern Tier are not scheduled to enter that phase until December.
Interoperability testing is mostly taking place in the remaining weeks of the year.
NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith said agency officials are working closely with the FRA on meeting its PTC goals.
"Parsons, our PTC contractor, provided a status update at the NJ TRANSIT Board Meeting last Thursday that illustrated a timeline to full implementation by the end of the year and we intend to hold them fully accountable to meeting that deadline," Smith wrote in an email.
NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett said after last week's board meeting he feels good about the agency's progress and ability to make the deadline. By doing much of the initial testing on the most complicated train line, he said he is confident it will make these next few weeks go smoothly.
"Going into the last year, we really had to compress a lot of work, a lot of tests using tremendous resources, but it's sort of been like dominoes, that was our strategy and it so far has worked well coming into the home stretch," said Corbett, who took the helm of NJ Transit in February 2018 when only 12% of this work was done.
"We took the most complex set of (train) line for the demonstration area, on the Morris & Essex line, we constantly had problems for well more than a year, it was like whack-a-mole," he added. "Once we got that all worked out then rolling that out line by line is sort of cookie-cutter once you get that pattern."
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 2008.
NJ Transit's progress, however, was not enough to alleviate concern at the FRA. At the beginning of the year, NJ Transit was one of four railroads at risk, but over the course of the year the other rail organizations have made enough progress to be taken off the "at risk" list.
"FRA continues to direct additional resources and technical assistance to NJT, including on-site support to oversee and expedite testing and RSD," the agency wrote in its third quarter update.
"Furthermore, FRA regularly sends correspondence to NJT, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and NJT’s major PTC system vendors and suppliers to underscore the importance of timely PTC system implementation."
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.