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NY Congressman Introduces A Bill To Help Finance Automated Train System

Barry Solow, flickr

A New York congressman is introducing legislation to help railroads invest in technology that the NTSB says could have prevented Sunday’s fatal Metro-North derailment in the Bronx.  

As National Transportation Safety Board investigators piece together information from Sunday’s Metro-North Hudson Line derailment in the Bronx, some data have already emerged. Here’s the NTSB’s Earl Weener during a press conference Monday.

“The preliminary information and let me emphasize, this preliminary information from the event recorders, shows that the train was traveling approximately 82 miles per hour as it when into a 30 mile an hour curve," Weener says.

The speed limit in the zone preceding the curve is 70 miles per hour. An NTSB spokesman confirms that an automated system known as positive train control, or PTC, would have prevented the derailment that killed four passengers and injured more than 60 others. And now Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney wants to make sure money is not standing in the way of implementing it. He is introducing legislation – the Commuter Rail Passenger Safety Act - to help railroads like Metro-North finance PTC systems through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing Program – an existing program that provides direct loans and loan guarantees of up to $35 billion to finance the development of critical railroad infrastructure.

“So my legislation does a very simple thing, it says look, this 35 billion dollar pool of low interest financing will explicitly be made available for the implementation of positive train control so we can get this done in time to save lives," New York Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney says.

He says there is another piece to his legislation.

“Separately there’s a grant program which is called a Rail Safety Technology grant program, which expired previously, a 50 million dollar grant program, my bill would also reauthorize that program and double it to 100 million dollars to allow grants to be provided for positive train control as well," Representative Maloney says.

Positive train control is Wi-Fi and GPS-based safety technology that monitors and, if necessary, controls train movement in the event of human error. Maloney, who toured the derailment site Monday night with New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and NTSB officials, says that in 2008, Congress passed a law mandating positive train control systems for commuter and freight railroads, however there have been difficulties meeting the deadline due in part to funding issues. Like many rail lines, Metro-North has advocated for extending a 2015 deadline to implement the costly and complicated system.

Two of the four passengers killed in the Metro-North derailment lived in Maloney’s district – Donna Smith of Newburgh and Jim Lovell of Cold Spring.

“Sunday’s accident hit close to home for me because I knew personally Jim Lovell who is one of the four people who died, his wife Nancy Montgomery is also a close friend of mine. We live together in Cold Spring, New York, our kids go to school together, we spent time together over the fourth of July," Represenatative Maloney says.

Maloney says he spent two hours at Lovell’s home Monday.

“It’s hard to look into the eyes of those family members and know that there is simple technology out there today that should’ve been implemented already that would save those lives. Before another husband doesn’t come home for Christmas, we should be doing this, and that’s what my bill would do," Representative Maloney says.

A Metro-North spokesman did not respond in time for this broadcast. Maloney says he expects bi-partisan support for the legislation. He says he is unaware of any opposition to the actual PTC technology.

“So no one is really against it from what I can tell, except that it just costs money," Representative Maloney says.

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