TRANSIT: Positive train control coming to N.Y., N.J. Port Authority

Project expected to last through rest of 2014, possibly into 2015

February 11, 2014

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PATH) is poised to become one of the nation’s first mass-transit rail systems to meet the federal government’s December 2015 deadline for implementing positive train control. Positive train control is an advanced signal technology that enhances safety by automatically applying a train’s brakes if a collision appears imminent.

This project, which also will ensure time for other critical work like continued post-Superstorm Sandy cleanup and security improvements, will require the closure of the World Trade Center and Exchange Place PATH stations up to 45 weekends—excluding major holidays—throughout the remainder of 2014 and possibly early 2015. Similar work and closures will be necessary on tunnels beneath the Hudson River serving PATH’s uptown 33rd Street line in 2015.

Work and closures will commence the weekend of Feb. 14-17, beginning late Friday night, Feb. 14, and continuing through 5 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 17.

Positive Train Control was mandated by federal law in 2008 and is designed to help reduce human or mechanical errors to avoid accidents and save lives. If a dangerous situation arises, a train’s braking system automatically engages to avoid accidents with other trains, derailments caused by excessive speed or wrong switching to tracks undergoing repairs. While PATH long has maintained an excellent safety record, this improvement is mandated to further enhance safety.

The Positive Train Control improvements are part of a $580 million, comprehensive signals modernization program to replace PATH’s antiquated mechanical train controls with state-of-the-art, computerized signals. In addition to replacing aging technology and making the system safer, this new signal system will ultimately improve service for PATH riders by enabling more frequent service in the future.

The Port Authority regrets the inconvenience to its passengers, but stresses that this work is vital to upgrading PATH to improve current and future service. In addition to safety and security enhancements, this work will provide PATH riders increased reliability in the future, as well as laying the groundwork for increased passenger capacity as early as 2016.

“Positive Train Control is a vital part of our ‘PATH Forward’ plan in the coming years and we hope our passengers understand that inconvenience now will mean an even safer and better ride in the long run,’’ said Stephen Kingsberry, PATH’s director and general manager. “We are utilizing the out-of-service periods to maximize post-Sandy initiatives, installation of computerized signals and state-of-good-repair work on our tunnels and lines.”

This year’s work also is essential for PATH to continue its remediation efforts on rails, tunnels and equipment due to ongoing deterioration from latent, corrosive salt residue from Superstorm Sandy.  The storm’s unprecedented flooding of 15 million gal of corrosive salt water in each of the PATH tunnels  left behind a salt residue that could not entirely be cleaned during the efforts to restore service in the months after the storm. To remedy this issue, workers will power-wash the tunnels between WTC and Exchange Place stations during the closures to remove corrosive salt. They also will also replace 90% of the utilities in the tunnels, including power and communications equipment, rail, third rail and track—all of which is corroding due to salt intrusion.

Just before Superstorm Sandy hit in late October 2012, 55% of the signal work had been awarded, the design of the new system was complete and installation of equipment was well underway.  After the storm passed, all field activity for the signals program stopped for more than four months, with work gradually returning to normal activity over a three-month period.  Continuing at this pace, the overall signal program would have been delayed more than three years.