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Metra Is "Years Away" From Installing A High-Tech Train Safety System

By Rachel Cromidas in News on May 18, 2015 3:30PM

The push for high-tech train safety systems continue a week after a horrifying Amtrak crash in Philadelphia produced multiple fatalities.

In Chicago, Metra officials have said it will likely take another three or four years before they can install their own high-tech system that could prevent certain accidents caused by human error and speeding. The federal government has mandated that national railroad operators install the control system by the end of this year, but most transit authorities like Metra are not expected to meet that deadline.

"We can't work any faster than we're working," Metra Chairman Martin Oberman told the Chicago Tribune. He estimates that it will cost $300 million to $400 million to create the technology, called Positive Train Control, which is under development.

Current Metra safety measures include radios, computers and GPS devices installed in train cars that can communicate with Metra's operation centers and a warning to engineers when trains speed beyond 83 miles per hour. The new, high-tech system however would allow all trains to communicate with each other and control centers in real time.

For its part, Amtrak does have the system installed in many trains in the Northeast Corridor, but not the section of Philadelphia where the train wreck took place last Tuesday evening. Eight people were killed and at least 200 were injured in the crash, during which a New York-bound regional train reportedly took a 50-mph curve at a speed over 100 mph. The Federal Railroad Administration has ordered Amtrak to install the new technology to detect and prevent train speedings throughout the Northeast Corridor as soon as possible.

Train derailments in and around Chicago are infrequent but not uncommon. Two cars of a freight train derailed at about 9 p.m. Sunday night south of the Joliet Amtrak station, closing tracks until about 5 a.m. Monday. There were no injuries reported.