Firm Commits to ‘Whatever It Takes’ to Fix MTA Train Controls

The $1 billion project to install positive train control throughout the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North has been marred by delays on the part of the contractor, a joint venture of Siemens and Bombardier Transportation.

by Alfonso A. Castillo, Newsday / May 21, 2019
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(TNS) — The chief executive of the firm behind several of the blunders in the installation of federally required crash prevention technology on Long Island Rail Road trains has assured MTA leaders his company will do “whatever it takes” to complete the project on time, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Patrick Foye said.

Addressing members of the MTA Board’s Railroad Committee during a Manhattan meeting Monday morning, Foye said he and other members of the MTA leadership team met with Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser on Friday and “made it crystal clear” that his company’s recent performance on the positive train control installation project has been unacceptable “and that Siemens was putting its company’s future business with the MTA at great risk.”

Foye said Kaeser gave him and the other MTA representatives his “full commitment” that the project would be completed by the federal government’s December 2020 deadline.

“This was not an assurance. This was a full commitment by Siemens to do whatever it takes,” said Foye, who noted that Siemens officials accepted “full responsibility” for recent failures in the project “and do not seek to shift the blame.”

"I think they understand that we're deadly serious about this," Foye said.

Siemens said in a statement that Kaeser "met with MTA leadership last week to express our unwavering commitment to supporting MTA’s planned schedule for revenue service demonstration and PTC certification."

"We will continue to work closely with the railroads to contribute to their success," the company added.

The $1 billion project to install positive train control, or PTC, throughout the LIRR and Metro-North has been marred by complications and delays on the part of the contractor, a joint venture of Siemens and Bombardier Transportation. PTC works by having the antennas on trains communicate with radio transponders installed along tracks to automatically slow down or stop a train that goes too fast or violates a signal.

In the most recent hiccup, the contractor, while in the process of addressing a calibration error that resulted in the recall of about 1,000 "undercar scanner antennas" needed for PTC, realized it had made another mistake in how it was installing a related electrical component — soldering them onto circuit boards rather than bolting them, as specified by the manufacturer. The mistake required making additional repairs to the recalled antennas.

The original recall stemmed from the discovery that equipment used to test the antennas had not been calibrated in three years. Siemens officials said they also found out that the employee responsible for tuning one of the components of the recalled devices was only following proper protocols when he knew he was being observed during quality control audits.

MTA officials last month demanded that Kaeser appear and answer questions about problems and offer assurances about the project. MTA officials said they would consider excluding Siemens from future consideration for MTA contracts if Kaeser did not show.

MTA officials said the contractor has taken several steps to address its recent problems, including through “several leadership changes” and a reorganization of the project team, and by bringing in a third-party monitor to review its work at the contractor’s cost.

MTA board member Neal Zuckerman, who chairs the board's PTC working group, expressed skepticism over Siemens' promises, and said the MTA "must be ever-vigilant" in making sure the firm makes good on its word.

"I, at least, . . . do not have as much confidence as the global CEO at Siemens has at this point,” Zuckerman said.

Foye assured the board that the MTA will "hold Siemens, Bombardier and the consortium’s feet to the fire on behalf of our customers."

Under the U.S. Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which stemmed from a Chatsworth, California, commuter train crash that killed 25 people, railroads were required to have PTC in place by the end of 2015. When it became apparent that most railroads could not meet the deadline, federal lawmakers agreed to push it to 2018. Having encountered various delays, the LIRR last year sought and was granted another extension, until 2020, to complete the project. Missing the deadline could result in fines as high as $27,904 a day.

LIRR president Phillip Eng said several "positive steps" have been taken in advancing PTC in recent weeks. He said LIRR trains have completed 135 test runs this year using the technology on the Port Washington branch, and recently began similar tests between Babylon and Patchogue.

POSITIVE TRAIN CONTROL TIMELINE

October 2008: President George W. Bush signs into law the U.S. Rail Safety Improvement Act, which requires railroads to install positive train control technology throughout their systems by the end of 2015.

November 2013: After unsuccessfully petitioning for an exemption to the federal law, the MTA awards a $428.5 million contract to a joint venture of Bombardier Transportation/Siemens Rail Automation to design and install PTC throughout the LIRR and Metro-North. The board later increases the cost of the contract by $11.3 million.

October 2015: With several railroads, including the LIRR and Metro-North, saying they need more time to complete their PTC projects, the federal government agrees to extend its deadline to December 2018.

November 2016: Falling further behind, the MTA acknowledges it has begun installing parts of its new PTC system before the entire system’s design is complete — risking the possibility of having to undo and redo some work.

February 2018: The MTA discloses it has shifted its focus from completing PTC installation by the end of 2018 to meeting the minimum federal standards to qualify for an extension until 2020.

April 2018: The MTA reveals its PTC system failed in several test simulations on the LIRR, further setting back the project.

December 2018: With days to go, the MTA announces it has met the minimum federal standards to be granted an extension until 2020 to complete PTC.

February 2019: The MTA announces its PTC contractor has recalled hundreds of “undercar scanner antennas” installed on trains because they were not properly calibrated.

March 2019: In the process of repairing the recalled antennas, the contractor discovers another mistake in how a related component was installed.

April 2019: MTA officials demand that the CEO of Siemens come before them to answer questions and offer assurances, or risk having his company “fired.”

May 2019: MTA leaders meet with Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, who, according to Foye, vows to "do whatever it takes" to complete the project on time.

SOURCE: Newsday research

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