LIRR to begin tests to implement life-saving technology on Port Washington line

LIRR to begin tests to implement life-saving technology on Port Washington line
Photo by Joseph Kaczmarek/AP
By Mark Hallum

The MTA anticipates meeting a federal deadline of Dec. 31 for the launch of Positive Train Control, a potentially life-saving technology which controls the speed of locomotives, and will be testing technology along the LIRR’s Port Washington line between Woodside and Bayside throughout April.

The move toward implementing PTC comes following a string of deadly Amtrak derailments attributed to excessive speed, as well as a push from the U.S. Senate for agencies to take action to prevent further deaths from occurring in the future.

MTA’s chief safety officer, David Mayer, testified March 1 in front of members of the U.S. Senate on the agency’s progress on building PTC on the LIRR, in which 80 percent of the hardware on the rails is in place and 60 percent of the components on trains themselves is installed.

New York’s U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, called on the federal Department of Transportation to crack down on railroads that fail to implement adequate safety measures to prevent accidents, such as the deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington state on Dec. 18.

“Since NTSB first recommended PTC, more than 300 people have died, thousands have been injured, and millions of dollars in property damages have been incurred,” the senators said in a joint statement in January. “The PTC deadline is now almost one year away – Dec. 31, 2018. It is imperative that railroads complete implementation before the deadline. They must clearly understand that the consequences of failure will be stringent and prompt.”

The derailment of the Amtrak train in DuPont, Wash., on the Cascade Line was a keen reminder of the deadly train wreck near Philadelphia, in which the conductor, a Forest Hills resident, took a curve at near double the speed limit.

Brandon Bostian, 34, was the engineer of Northeast Regional Train 188 in the May 2015 wreck. Despite a 50-mile-per-hour limit, he was at the controls when the train sped around a curve at 108 mph.

Eight passengers were killed, including two from Queens, and more than 180 others were sent to nearby hospitals, some in critical condition.

In May 2017, the Philadelphia district attorney decided not to press criminal charges against Bostian, claiming that the factors in the incident did not fit the definition of criminal recklessness as described by Pennsylvania state law.

At the March 1 hearing, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) — who serves on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation — chastised railroad organizations across the country that claimed PTC was expensive and complicated to implement even though it had been mandatory for over a decade.

He called for a crackdown on railroads dragging their feet to make PTC the new standard.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.