What to Know
- Positive train control can slow or stop a train automatically if it's going too fast for conditions or another train is on the same track.
- The deadline for implementation of PTC is now the end of 2018.
- MARC was fined $27,904 is for failing to adhere to its own implementation plan for the end of 2017.
The head of the Maryland Transit Administration is assuring riders that the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train service will meet a mandatory safety deadline, despite repeated warnings and fines issued by the federal government.
"I feel very, very confident in our ability to meet the deadline before Dec. 31," MTA Administrator and CEO Kevin Quinn told the News4 I-Team.
The I-Team learned MARC is one of 13 railroads recently fined by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for failing to comply with their implementation plans for positive train control (PTC). The $27,904 fine is the maximum fine for PTC enforcement.
The PTC system is comprised of hardware and software installed on the trains and the tracks, which can communicate wirelessly to prevent collisions. The technology can slow or stop a train automatically if it's going too fast for conditions or another train is on the same track.
"Safety is our top priority and this project is a critical piece of that," Quinn said.
Quinn, who became Maryland's transit administrator last year, said MARC has been steadily working toward implementing PTC while minimizing the passenger impact of having trains out of service.
"This isn't just installing a single program on your computer," said Quinn. "This is hardware, software that has to work together with wayside infrastructure, so it can be challenging."
The FRA has sent Maryland leaders three warning letters so far this year, designating the MARC train system as being "at risk of failing to meet the congressional deadline."
For the past decade, railroads across the country have convinced Congress to push back a mandatory safety deadline first enacted in 2008 with a deadline of 2015. Now the deadline is the end of 2018.
All equipment must be installed, staff must be trained, and testing must be completed. Then, if need be, railroads can get a two-year extension to make sure their systems are interoperable with the PTC systems of other railroads. For MARC, that would include its track owners, Amtrak and CSX.
The FRA administrator told a congressional committee on Sept. 13 that he expects most railroads will need the extension through Dec. 31, 2020, to fully implement PTC as required.
"They need to hurry up and do it. I think it's important," MARC train rider Andrea Motley told the I-Team.
She and thousands of other riders depend on the railroad to get them to and from their homes in Prince George's County to work in D.C., while avoiding the hassle of traffic and parking.
"It's a good ride," said Motley. "That's why I've been riding it for so long."
Quinn said equipment installation is now at around 85 percent, and employees are already training on a new simulator.
He said his agency has been in constant contact with the federal government about its PTC progress and that the at-risk letters are sent based on completion data Maryland provides quarterly.
"I think it has to do with the way they calculate completion. The way that our schedule has been set up from the very beginning is that we are set to hit certain milestones on certain dates," said Quinn.
MARC's current fine of $27,904 is for failing to adhere to its own implementation plan for the end of 2017. Last year, the state paid a fine of $2,800 for missing benchmarks from the end of 2016.
A spokesperson sent the I-Team a statement saying, "MARC disagrees with the fines issued by FRA and is in the process of an appeal. We cannot comment further until that process is complete."
Quinn pointed out that the FRA bases its enforcement on dated information filed quarterly and that MARC has made significant progress since filing its last report.
"I would just assure our riders that we're going to hit this deadline," said Quinn. "I'm 100 percent confident."