Metra: Funding shortage cause for lack of safety updates - KMSP-TV

Metra: Funding shortage cause for lack of safety updates

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

It's been 10 years since Steve Kuk, his wife and daughter survived the Metra crash in Fuller Park.

It happened when the train operator didn't see signals warning of a slow zone on the tracks at 47th Street and Federal Street.

"We looked back and the locomotives were on fire. They had burst into flames. It's like something you'd think is in a movie," Kuk recalls the incident.

Two years later, two passengers died when another Metra train derailed at the same spot.

Both accidents could have been prevented with technology called "Positive Train Control" or PTC.

This new technology uses GPS and trackside wireless technology connected to an onboard computer to help with human error.

"The engineer still controls the train, but PTC acts as a safeguard to prevent speed and train movement violations. Should the engineer not respond before reaching the braking zone, the PTC system is designed to automatically and always stop or slow the train," the manufacturers explain.

After a 2008 Los Angeles crash that killed 25 people was caused by a train operator sending text messages, Congress passed a law ordering all passenger rail systems to adopt PTC by the end of 2015.

However, Friday morning Metra's board will hear that only 40 percent of its trains will be equipped with PTC by that time, and the agency is asking to extend the federal deadline to 2018.

In a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin, Metra said it doesn't yet have the $234 million it will cost to put PTC on all its trains, and blames lack of federal and state funding, technology issues and other needed repairs and maintenance for slowing the process.

"Let me assure you safety is the top priority of the board and management of Metra" the letter said.

Sen. Durbin said he's frustrated, but willing to give Metra a bit more time.

Attorney Tim Cavanagh, who won a $1.8 million settlement from Metra for the Kuk family, said the longer commuter rail systems delay PTC, the more it's going to cost.

"Well you can't afford not to put it in because lives are at stake. Since the Kuk crash we've had dozens of people killed, hundreds injured that PTC would have prevented," Cavanagh said.

This includes the deadly crash in New York that occurred a couple weeks ago when a sleepy train operator hit a curve at 80 miles an hour.

Metra is far from alone in having trouble meeting the federal deadline.

In fact, Los Angeles has the only commuter rail service that will be fully equipped with PTC by 2015.

Sen. Durbin said he is trying to come up with federal funds that will help install this life-saving technology.

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