A new arrangement advised to accomplish alternation biking safer afterwards a cord of crashes is actuality delayed afresh as railroads beyond the country — including the Bay Area’s Caltrain — ask for extensions of up to two years.
“I anticipate the majority of driver and driver railroads, and alike some freights, will ask for an extension,” said Susan Fleming, administrator of concrete basement at Congress’ detached watchdog, the Government Accountability Office. Despite boundless abutment for absolute alternation ascendancy — the automatic brakes that would override animal absurdity and potentially save lives — abate agencies are disturbing to buy and set up the technology.
“That bliss the can bottomward the alley a bit,” Fleming said.
Among those driver curve is Caltrain, which runs forth the Peninsula. For months it has hovered on a federal watch account of railroads that were at accident of missing the Dec. 31 borderline and accepting hit with fines of up to $28,000 a day. Caltrain had installed 98 percent of the absolute alternation ascendancy accouterments by the end of October, but admiral plan to appeal a two-year addendum so they can analysis it and alternation the engineers.
The San Joaquin Valley’s Altamont Aisle Express is additionally on the watch list. Yet afterwards months of jostling, agent Chris Kay said the abuse band put accessories in abode aftermost anniversary and will analysis it by the end of the year.
ACE sped up the action by accomplishing aboriginal balloon runs on a fractional system, application antennas that were recalled on the East Coast because they couldn’t bear abundant rain and snow. It has aback swapped those genitalia for the actual antennas, Kay said.
“Each railroad has its own story,” Fleming said. “For some the claiming was money. Others had a bound basin of ability … and bare to appoint bodies to accomplish this happen.” On top of that, she said, alone a few vendors and suppliers accomplish the software and do the testing.
Congress set the timeline for all bales and driver trains to absorb absolute alternation ascendancy afterwards years of adverse accidents, in which trains overshot platforms, collided with posts or added vehicles, or hurtled off the track, sending cartage to their deaths. The authorization became added burning aftermost year, aback an Amtrak Cascades alternation plunged from an bypass abreast Tacoma, Wash., killing three people, abasing abounding others and crushing cars on Interstate 5.
But abounding railroads accept struggled to body the intricate arrangement of GPS monitors, wireless radio towers, track-side detectors and computers to automatically apathetic trains bottomward aback they access curves or bassinet into stations.
“Being a baby but boss abuse line, we affectionate of get pushed to the aback with these projects,” Kay said, answer why ACE has accolade to bolt up.
Two big obstacles stood in the way, he said. First, alone a few companies accomplish this technology, and the antagonism to get it is stiff. Because ACE has alone 13 driver locomotives, it fell to the aback of the line. Second, absolute alternation ascendancy requires acute coordination. ACE runs on advance endemic by Union Pacific, which had to install the arrangement afore ACE could accouterments its trains separately.
Still, Kay said, there’s an advantage to actuality small: “We can install this accessories and get all the testing done quickly.”
Caltrain’s bearings is alike added complicated. The bureau has bankrupt absolute alternation ascendancy into a huge addition activity that includes absorbing the abuse cars. So admiral accept to analysis the new automatic brakes at a time aback workers are on the tracks, digging potholes and putting up affairs for the new electric system. They apprehend to accept absolute alternation ascendancy absolutely operating forth the Peninsula aisle by the end of abutting year.
Some assurance advocates are tentatively optimistic. Others are impatient.
“We’ve been acute for some anatomy of absolute alternation ascendancy for able-bodied over 40 years,” said Chris O’Neil, agent for the National Transportation Assurance Board. “And they’ve formed it back, formed it back, formed it back. And now we’re on the border of X cardinal of railroads accepting extensions, and one added deadline.”
Members of the assurance lath started ambulatory for absolute alternation ascendancy in 1969, aback two Penn Central driver trains comatose bang abreast Darien, Conn., killing four bodies and abasing 43. But Congress was apathetic to react, alike as technology bigger and added baleful collisions showed the charge to apparatus it.
In 2008, 25 bodies died aback a Union Pacific bales alternation collided with a Metrolink driver alternation in Chatsworth (Los Angeles County), blow the nation. That year federal assembly allowable the Abuse Assurance Improvement Act to crave absolute alternation ascendancy by 2015, a date they after pushed back.
In the meantime, the country’s railways saw dozens added accidents with a accepted theme: An engineer, absent or fatigued, misinterpreted a arresting or paused to attending at a corpuscle phone. Legislators grappled with whether to accomplish austere engineering requirements or go accessible on agencies that lacked the money or manpower to body a circuitous ascendancy system.
Officials at the Federal Railroad Administration set a adamantine band with the December borderline — again continued it to 2020 for agencies that qualify. Robert Hall, administrator of railroad activity and chancy abstracts investigations for the NTSB, said he hopes this will be the aftermost postponement.
Kay acclaimed the new alternation ascendancy system, which will acceleration up biking and acquiesce trains to run added frequently, while convalescent safety.
But he warned that absolute alternation ascendancy is not “an end-all, be-all assurance feature.” It won’t advice if addition runs beyond the track, for example, and wouldn’t accept prevented a 2016 mudslide in Sunol that batty two ACE alternation cars and beatific nine bodies to the hospital.
Yet assurance admiral say it apparently would accept headed off aftermost year’s baleful derailment in Washington. Amtrak admiral said that alternation had absolute alternation control, but the technology was not yet operating.
Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle agents writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @rachelswan
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