Feds OK $1B loan to aid MTA train safety

James Galloway

The Federal Railroad Administration has approved a nearly $1 billion loan to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to finance the installation of a congressionally mandated technology on the Metro-North and LIRR intended to limit human error that leads to accidents. 

The loan, which still requires approval by the MTA Board, would fund the installation of positive train control, a technology in certain instances cedes control of the trains movement to computers, according to a press release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

“This loan is a dramatic investment in the MTA – one that will make trains safer for all riders on Metro-North and the LIRR,” Cuomo said in a statement. “With this infusion of funding, crews will be getting to work on individual cars and along hundreds of miles of track to install state of the art technology that can save lives.”

The release said positive train control has the potential to limit accidents due to human error, such as two-train collisions, derailments stemming from excessive speed, trains travelling to areas under construction and trains moving past an improperly aligned switch. 

The technology could prevent situations such as the Bronx Spuyten Duyvil derailment caused by a train moving too fast. 

“There’s no doubt that positive train control will make riders and workers safer and enhance the security of the commuter railroad systems that so many New Yorkers rely on every day,” Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said. “We need to fully implement this technology, and this major federal funding advance will allow the LIRR and Metro-North to get to work right away.”

The loan from the Federal Railroad Administration has a 2.38 percent fixed-rate interest that the MTA would repay over 22 years, and is the lowest-cost financing option for the MTA, according to the release. 

The MTA awarded a contract in 2013 to Bombardier Transportation and Siemens Rail Automation to design, furnish and ensure the positive train control works correctly. The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North have already started implementing the changes for 1,455 rail cars and 588 miles of track. 

“This federal loan is a vital step to improving railway safety,” Congressman Steve Israel said. “I applaud the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Department of Transportation on their hard work to secure this loan, and I will continue to fight for federal resources for critical New York infrastructure.”

The $967.1 million loan is the largest yet through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program. The MTA Board will vote on the loan on April 29. 

“We are delighted to have been able to work with the Federal Railroad Administration to make this historic, and extremely important award possible,” MTA chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said. “The most important thing we do each day is strive to ensure the safety of our passengers, our employees, and the public at large. This award will help us enhance that effort in a very significant way.”

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