By Erin Delmore
New Jersey Transit is making headway toward implementing positive train control — the lifesaving technology that can automatically slow or stop an off-kilter train. New Jersey Transit’s board today approved an agreement to lease radio frequency spectrum — a necessary part of the automatic brake system — to cover the northern and eastern parts of the railroad. Back in April, NJT hashed out a deal to cover the southern, central and western parts. The transit agency’s new executive director says that one piece of the puzzle is nearly done.
“We are waiting to hear from several or really one government agency with regard to that proposal and we fully anticipate that we’re going to get all the spectrum we need, possibly within the next several months,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro.
NJ Transit has until the end of 2018 to fully implement positive train control and until then, it’ll bear the challenges of designing, developing and deploying the system all at once. When an NJ Transit commuter train crashed into Hoboken Terminal last month leaving one dead and more than 100 injured, National Transportation Safety Board investigators zeroed in on the absence of an automatic braking system. When a train derailed near Philadelphia in May 2015, the NTSB came right out and said it could have been prevented with positive train control.
“Anybody who rides along this region knows it’s inadequate, it’s not as dependable as it should be and we have problems. And I wanted to fight to try to bring resources home and now we’ve succeeded in doing a lot of that,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.
Booker is the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees railroads. He pushed for faster, greater implementation of automatic braking systems along the Northeast Corridor. But there’s more work to be done, not only in terms of improving rail safety, but also security.
“Whereas we see globally, rail lines be targeted for attacks in Europe and other places; we should be doing more, I think, to spelling out what the policies and procedures for security should be here,” he said.
Booker says the effort to beef up security around transit stations is lagging.
“I’m tired of our country being reactive. If there was a terrorist attack on our rail system, suddenly everyone would be rushing to pour money in it. We need to harden these targets and be proactive… Let’s first and foremost, before we even talk about investments, let’s put together the procedures and policies necessary. First tell us what the road map would look like to really harden these targets. And then let Congress start to battle over how much to fund that,” he said.
Is this a hard issue to push through with Booker’s colleagues?
“So it is a hard issue,” he said. “We are a very transportation-dependent region, but we have to understand that investments made in our transportation sector return more than $2 back for every dollar invested. In other words, the more we build out our infrastructure in this region, efficiency, speed, security, the more our economy grows.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey Transit is looking to grow into the next fiscal year. During today’s meeting, the board adopted an operating budget to keep the trains up and running and a capital budget to make repairs, modernize the fleet and upgrade tech, including $72 million to install positive train control.