Readers Write: The latest LIRR woes

Readers Write: The latest LIRR woes

Recent news that the Long Island Rail Road will fail to meet the Federal Railroad Administration’s December 2018 deadline for complete 100 percent system-wide installation of Positive Train Control comes as no surprise to those of us who worked in the transit industry.  

The Federal Railroad Administration 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 insure 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, along with $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 the basic service customers pay for.  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 of this need. 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(s) 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 number one priority for the LIRR over past years even if it meant diverting resources from other capital improvement projects.  Safety should be number one for commuters.

But don’t blame Washington when it comes to how the MTA and 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 crises 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 $550 million for LIRR Positive Train Control as part of a $1 billion federal loan. Will this loan be paid back plus any 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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