The people who run the Trinity River Express, North Texas’ major commuter line, say it’s official – its trains will miss a federal deadline to have new safety equipment designed to save lives.
But despite the major delays, which threaten to shut down commuter traffic for thousands of passengers throughout the Metroplex, there are no plans to hold any individual managers accountable, officials said.
The TRE, which is operated by the Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Trinity Metro rail lines, will not meet the end-of-the-year federal deadline to have its trains equipped with Positive Train Control, or PTC, a sophisticated safety measure that can stop speeding trains and avoid head-on collisions. The deadline was set back in 2015.
Along with the potential of impacting thousands of commuters, Amtrak, which utilizes TRE tracks in North Texas, has said it may discontinue service next year on rail lines that are not PTC ready.
“I think we are all concerned that we are not going to meet the deadline,” said Sue Bauman, board chairwoman for DART, which supervises the TRE.
Bauman told NBC 5 Investigates that there were no plans to hold any particular individuals responsible for the delays, opting instead to share the blame throughout DART, Trinity Metro and the TRE.
“Are you saying, are we looking to blame someone … I think we are all accountable, if you want to know,” she said.
Bauman said much of the problem has been because one of the major vendors, Wabtec, has been overwhelmed by commuter lines throughout the country that need PTC equipment installed by the deadline, set by the Federal Railroad Administration.
“I’m not blaming the vendor because I think the vendor has just been overwhelmed with their delivery to all the people who need their product,” Bauman said.
Wabtec describes itself on its website as “a leading supplier of value-added, technology-based products and services for freight rail, passenger transit and select industrial markets worldwide.”
The company, based in Pennsylvania, did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.
Heightened safety laws for trains, including a federal mandate for PTC systems, came in 2008 following one of the worst rail crashes in history, between a commuter train and a freight locomotive in Los Angles.
Twenty-five people were killed and 135 were injured.
“It shouldn’t take this long,” said Claudia Souser, who lost her husband in the accident.
NBC 5 Investigates went to Los Angeles this year to see how that city’s rail lines have improved since the tragedy.
In an interview, Souser told us trains everywhere should already be protected by PTC.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it should be done,” she said.
TRE staff has apparently known for months that the PTC deadline would not be met, according to internal documents obtained through open records requests.
Those records included a staff presentation in January which suggested the deadline might be missed, and a progress report in June which said full implementation would not occur until December 2019, a full year after the deadline.
The TRE is one of nine commuter rail lines across the country that are in danger of not meeting the federal requirements, leaving officials to hope the federal government will grant them a deadline extension to get up to speed.
If that doesn’t happen, and the trains are sidelined, the back-up plan is to deploy buses for commuters.
“That will be in the back pocket,” said Bauman. “It’s not something we hope we’re going to exercise.”