Members of Congress today offered harsh words to commuter rail lines, like North Texas’ Trinity Railway Express, that are far behind schedule in implementing federally required safety equipment.
“There’s no reason to be lagging behind, because most everybody is doing their job,” said an angry Rep. Mike Capuano, D-Mass, during a committee hearing in Washington on the status of Positive Train Control, the safety measure that is supposed to be on much of the country’s rail lines by the end of the year.
But the TRE has told NBC 5 Investigates it will not make the deadline and, instead, hope for an extension by the Federal Railroad Administration.
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“We’ve had promises made to us as a committee that haven’t been met,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.
Some members of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure said there was no excuse for missing the deadline to install PTC, a sophisticated fitting on trains to help prevent head-on collisions and out-of-control speeding.
Nationwide, most commuter railroads will need extra time to install PTC.
But the TRE – the commuter rail line used by thousands of passengers between Dallas and Fort Worth – is so far behind, it is in danger of not qualifying for a deadline extension.
“Most companies have done it. Most public entities have done it, or are on the way to do it,” said Capuano, adding:
“The handful who are not, I’m just saying very clearly, be careful because I don’t think you’re going to find very many,
if any, open minds on this side of this table when you come to say, ‘For some reason, every other person except us could get the job done.’”
Officials with the TRE say they’re behind because of the lack of available contractors, all swamped by the needs of larger railways rushing to make the deadline.
In a statement to NBC 5 Investigates, a TRE spokesperson expressed confidence a deadline extension will be approved, adding, “We’re committed to delivering Positive Train Control to TRE customers as soon as possible.”
The commuter railway is “on schedule” to have the equipment installed by the end of the year, “which will make it possible for us to begin testing early next year,” the spokesperson said.
In Washington, Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told committee members that further delays in implementing PTC could put the nation’s commuters at a greater risk of yet another train tragedy.
“For every day that we go without PTC, we are at risk for another Chatsworth (25 killed), another Bronx (4 killed), another Amtrak in Philadelphia (8 killed)…,” Sumwalt said.
“Each of these were mass-casualty events due to human error,” he said, “accidents that could have been prevented by PTC.”