Congress delays train safety requirement

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May 7, 2013: two Metro-North passenger trains collide during rush hour near Fairfield, Connecticut, injuring dozens. 6 months later on December 1: a Metro-North train derails in the Bronx, killing four and injuring more than 60. This may, an Amtrak train from D.C. bound for Penn Station derailed and crashed in Philadelphia, killing eight and injuring 200.

These are all accidents that experts say could have been prevented by something called "positive train control," which slows down a train in a warning zone or speed zone if an engineer doesn't respond.

In 2008, following a train collision that killed 25 people in Los Angeles. The U.S. Congress passed a law requiring passenger and freight railroads nationwide to have PTC installed by the end of 2015. But with two months to go, only about a third of railroads in the country will meet the deadline. And so last week, congress agreed to extend the deadline to 2018.

While Amtrak is on schedule to activate PTC along its northeast corridor by December 31, Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road are not.

Jim Cameron is the founder the commuter action group and sat on metro-north's commuter council for almost 20 years. He points out that SEPTA in the Philadelphia area and Metrolink in Los Angeles got it done but other major railroads have not.

In a letter to the senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said that while significant progress has been made, New York's heavily congested commuter rail environment presents unique challenges. And he wrote that when the 2015 deadline was first set seven years ago, "PTC was not an 'off-the-shelf' product that could be purchased and implemented without substantial research, design and testing."

Brian Tynan is the director of government relations for The American Public Transportation Association. He says sky-high cost and technical difficulties are among the reasons installation is taking so long.

Commuter advocates like Cameron hope that railroads will make the 2018 deadline.

The NTSB says it has been calling for technology like PTC for 45 years. The agency says in that time 145 accidents could have been prevented and some 288 lives could have been saved.