Readers Write: Where is the Positive Train Control on the LIRR?

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“Port LIRR branch pioneers safety tech” (Jessica Parks — Jan. 4) is nothing to be proud of. Installation of Positive Train Control for the Port Washington LIRR line should have been up and running years ago. 

The LIRR failed to meet the Federal Rail Road Administration December 2018 deadline for 100 percent system-wide installation of Positive Train Control. 

This comes as no surprise to those of us who worked in the transit industry.  The FRA originally mandated that Positive Train Control, a system of signals and switches that could prevent potential train crashes, be installed and operable by 2015 to ensure safety for the riding public.

Even with a time extension to December 2018, it was always doubtful that the LIRR would meet this new deadline. 

Perhaps the LIRR had insufficient force account (track employees) including inadequate numbers of certified signal maintainers and other specialized trade employees to support installation of Positive Train Control along with annual routine state of good repair system-wide projects, additional work in the East River Tunnels, $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track, $450 million Jamaica Capacity Improvements, $387 million Ronkonkoma Double Tracking and $11.8 billion MTA East Side Access. 

It continues to be challenging for the LIRR to coordinate daily track outages and go slow work zones to support all of this work while at the same time providing basic service for customers.  There is no guarantee that these issues will be resolved any time soon. 

Now the LIRR requests another two-year extension until Dec. 31, 2020 to actually finish Positive Train Control. 

The LIRR has known since 2010 that this is needed.  Complete means Positive Train Control is up and running 24/7 on all LIRR branches and service areas.

It should also include completion for thousands of contract punch list items, delivery and acceptance of all manufacture component maintenance plans, release of retainage and final payment to all third-party construction contractors and vendors. 

Needing another two-year extension to 2020 is an admission of failure.  Positive Train Control should have been the No. 1 priority for the LIRR over the past eight years, even if it meant diverting resources from other capital improvement projects.  Safety should be No. 1 for commuters.

Even with Positive Train Control, Port Washington branch riders will face future overcrowding, delays and longer travel times in coming years. 

Gov. Cuomo promised to provide new Port Washington branch service between Penn Station and future East Side Access Grand Central Terminal with Mets Willets Point station to support the LaGuardia Air Train. 

This will require adding up to six trains per hour in each direction.  This is necessary to meet his pledge of a thirty minute trip between the LaGuardia Airport and midtown Manhattan. 

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and other elected officials want a city-based LIRR fare to match the NYC Transit $2.75 subway fare. Imagine thousands of new riders attempting to board LIRR trains at Queens stations between Little Neck and Woodside along with the future new Elmhurst station.  

How many trains will have to make additional Queens stops to accommodate these riders resulting in longer travel time for Nassau County riders?  How many more trains will have to be added rush hours?  

But don’t blame Washington when it comes to how the MTA LIRR decided to use federal assistance for installing Positive Train Control since 2010.  Federal support for transportation has remained consistent and is growing over past decades.

When a crisis occurred, be it 9/11 or Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Washington was there. Additional billions in assistance above and beyond yearly formula allocations from the Federal Transit Administration were provided.

In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided billions more.

In 2018, Washington made available $1.4 billion to the MTA.  The same, if not more, will be available in 2019. The LIRR averages a 15 percent share of all annual federal funding received by MTA. 

For years, it has been their respective decisions to program virtually all of these funds to other capital projects and not to Positive Train Control. 

The MTA is paying for $550 million LIRR Positive Train Control as part of a $1 billion federal loan. Will this loan be paid back plus interest as part of the next $30 billion 2020-2024 Five Year Capital Program?  What is the cost for this loan?

Larry Penner

Great Neck

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.)

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