Chicago’s Metra urges Congress to alter safety system edict or face Jan. 1 shutdown

September 21, 2015

In their most direct message yet to Chicago-area rail commuters, Metra officials on Monday reiterated their warning that the agency faces a Jan.1 shutdown if Congress fails to extend the deadline for a federally mandated safety system and called on the riders to make their voices heard.

“This is a Congress that has shut down the government several times in recent years,” Metra Chairman Martin Oberman said. “They’re talking about shutting it down now. People around the country should be scared about that.”Website Insert State Supported Passenger Trains copy

Without a reprieve from the requirement that Metra have the complex and expensive safety system known as positive train control installed by Dec. 31, Metra’s crews would be prohibited by law from operating trains beyond that date, according to Metra’s lawyers.

That’s essentially the same legal argument made by the rest of the nation’s major freight and passenger railroads, including the BNSF Railway Co. and the Union Pacific Railroad, which operate four lines carrying about half of Metra’s customers. Those railroads also plan to cease operations by then.

“Such fines could essentially bankrupt Metra,” according to an analysis from Metra’s legal staff.

Positive train control uses a network of GPS, radios, computers and antenna equipment that are intended to slow or stop speeding trains, prevent train collisions and override human errors. Congress ordered the nation’s railroads to install PTC after the 2008 collision of a Los Angeles-area commuter train and a freight train. Twenty-five people were killed.

Officials say the system would have prevented crashes like the Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia May 12 that killed eight people, as well as two derailments in 2003 and 2005 on Metra’s Rock Island tracks on Chicago’s South Side.

Metra doesn’t believe it can have PTC fully in place until at least mid-2019 at a cost of $350 million.

Although officials have been warning about the possible shutdown for months, Metra’s board formally called on Congress Monday to extend the deadline. The nation’s major freight railroads also sent letters with the same message to Congress last week.

Read the full story from reporter Richard Wronski in the Chicago Tribune by clicking here. Some readers may have to log-in to the Chicago Tribune website.


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