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Metra Seeks Delay In Deadline For New Safety System, Citing Cost

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Dorothy Tucker Dorothy Tucker
Dorothy Tucker has served as a reporter for CBS 2 Chicago since 1984....
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CHICAGO (CBS) – In the wake of a deadly train crash in New York that might have been the result of an operator falling asleep at the wheel, officials at Metra were warning they might not be able to meet a 2015 deadline to install a safety system to prevent such accidents.

CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports Metra and other railroads have until the end of 2015 to install “positive train control” systems – which allow a computer to override human error, and take control of a train, but railroads have asked for a three-year extension to implement the system.

In October 2003, a Metra Rock Island Line train jumped the tracks while going 68 mph through a 10-mph crossing, injuring 47 people. Another accident two years later near the same location left 117 injured and two dead.

In both accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board blamed human error, and determined the derailment – as well as more than 20 others across the nation – could have been prevented if the trains had a PTC system.

Attorney Timothy Cavanagh represented Kathy Kuk, who received a $1.8 million settlement from Metra after suffering multiple injuries in the 2003 Metra derailment. He said a PTC system would have prevented Kuk’s injuries.

“It overrides human error,” Cavanagh said. “Computers will take control of the train when somebody is driving the train.”

However, Metra has warned it cannot meet the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline to install PTC systems on its trains – not without a lot more money.

Interim Executive Director Donald Orseno said it will cost $234 million to install the system, and he doesn’t know where the agency would get the money to meet the deadline.

He said Metra is working with state and federal officials to get the funding. Orseno said raising fares would be an option, but not a good one for one-time capital construction costs.

“When you raise fares, that really goes more towards the operating side, not so much the capital side,” he said.

Orseno said, to cover the cost of installing PTC systems, fares would have to double, and the agency would risk losing customers. Metra also would have to give up other safety upgrades.

“It’s not like we don’t want to do it. There is not a commuter agency in the nation that doesn’t want to do it. It’s something that we very much want to do, but we also need to be able to fund these projects,” he said.

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