SCHENECTADY The U.S. Department of Transportation should fund installation of a new train safety system on tracks between Poughkeepsie and Amsterdam, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Wednesday.
Schumer appeared at the Schenectady Amtrak station to support a state grant application for $33.7 million in federal money to purchase and install a positive train control system on the line.
"The technology truly is a lifesaver for both passenger and freight trains," Schumer said.
The money would be used to install positive train control in a 97-mile section of the Empire Corridor passenger route used by about two million riders per year.
Positive train control uses advanced electronics installed on both tracks and in locomotives to measure train speeds and positions and slow or stop trains in an emergency.
Last month's fatal commuter train crash at the Hoboken, New Jersey, commuter rail station has renewed calls for PTC on all trains - calls that have also followed other fatal rail accidents in recent years.
Federal law requires the systems be installed on all private railroads, but for the most part they haven't been installed yet.
The 2015 federal transportation bill extended the deadline for freight lines to install the systems from 2015 to 2018, with full operation in 2020. The industry, which called the 2015 deadline unrealistic, says it will meet the new deadline.
"With all the cars from North Dakota carrying crude oil, we need PTC on freight lines," Schumer said.
The five-year federal transportation funding bill - the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act - also provided $199 million in funding to install the PTC on passenger rail lines.
"We have the technology, we have the experience, we know how to do it. The one thing standing in the way is money," said Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Sarah Feinberg, who accompanied Schumer on Wednesday.
The Association of American Railroads, which represents the freight rail industry, has estimated the cost of implementing positive train control could be $10 billion or more. The federal government expects the freight industry to cover the cost along freight lines.
Schumer said Metro-North has agreed to install the system in the commuter tracks south of Poughkeepsie and that freight company CSX will install it on tracks running west of Amsterdam.
But that has left a gap between Poughkeepsie and Amsterdam without a source of funding. The section is owned by CSX, but leased by the state DOT, since Amtrak passenger service is the primary user of the line.
Last month, the state DOT applied for $33.7 million of the available federal funding. "There's money there. Why shouldn't New York go for it?" Schumer said.
He noted that the rail corridor is approved for upgrade to high speed rail, which would allow trains to travel up to 110 mph.
"This section that New York State leases from CSX is exactly what we had in mind when we created the fund," Schumer said.
Schumer said positive train control could prevent rail-motor vehicle and rail-pedestrian accidents, as well as preventing derailments.
Feinberg, whose agency will award the money, said the application is under review and a decision should be made "in the next few months."
Schumer, who is running for re-election this fall against Republican Wendy Long, also said he will support additional federal funding for replacement of the run-down Schenectady Amtrak station.
The replacement project already has $14 million in federal funding, but stalled last winter after the lone construction bid was nearly $25 million.
The state DOT, which is overseeing the project, has broken it into two parts for rebidding. It is currently reviewing bids for demolition of the current station.
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said he will be meeting with state DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll in a couple of weeks to get an update.