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UTA's FrontRunner Won't Make 2016 Safety Deadline

Utah Transit Authority

The Utah Transit Authority’s FrontRunner commuter rail line will not have a safety feature known as positive train control implemented by a federally mandated 2016 deadline. But why hasn’t it happened and what is UTA doing to comply?

UTA’s FrontRunner commuter rail line first opened in 2008, the same year that congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act. It requires freight lines and commuter rail lines to implement positive train control or PTC systems. That includes electronics designed to prevent collisions, derailments caused by speeding, and going through crossings that aren’t activated. Steve Meyer is the Chief Development Officer for UTA. He says part of the reason their system won’t be ready is because they’re competing for resources against companies with thousands of miles of track to improve.

“So it’s hard for us little guys, relatively speaking, to get those resources to implement the things,” he says.

But that doesn’t mean that FrontRunner is likely to have an accident like the one that recently happened outside of Philadelphia. While a full PTC system won’t be ready until at least the end of 2016, FrontRunner is already using a system that will automatically slow a train down if it’s going too fast.

“We feel like we have the most important, the most safety critical elements in place," Meyer says. "The public should feel comfortable that we’re running a system that’s safe.”

Like UTA, the majority of commuter rail lines and even freight carriers won’t meet the 2016 deadline. The Federal Railroad Administration could levy civil penalties against organizations that aren’t compliant, but UTA officials feel they’ve done enough good faith work to be given some leeway. It will cost UTA about $23 million to finish implementing PTC. 

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