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Rail Runner eyes service cuts amid mandated safety upgrades

FILE - This Aug. 13, 2014 file photo shows a Rail Runner Express locomotive at the depot in Santa Fe, N.M. Expensive federal safety standards may force New Mexico to cut service levels for the state's commuter rail line, state officials said. The Rail Runner is facing a short deadline and an estimated $50 million cost to implement a state-of-the-art train safety system called Positive Train Control.(AP Photo/Barry Massey, File)
September 09, 2017 - 12:01 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Expensive federal safety standards may force New Mexico to cut service levels for the state's commuter rail line, state officials said.

The Rail Runner is facing a short deadline and an estimated $50 million cost to implement a state-of-the-art train safety system called Positive Train Control, KRQE-TV in Albuquerque reported (https://goo.gl/hkWtvc).

State officials acknowledge the Rail Runner is unlikely to meet a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for installing the safety system. They have submitted a limited operations plan that may result in a reduction in the number of daily passenger trains.

The Rio Metro Regional Transit District believes it will take $50 million to get the system installed on Rail Runner's 96-mile track between Santa Fe and Belen, Rio spokeswoman Augusta Meyers said. The transit district oversees the Rail Runner.

"When you stick a $50 million price tag on a safety enhancement, it is a burden," Meyers said.

The required technology upgrade is an automatic, computer controlled braking system. It uses GPS satellites, radio towers and ground sensors to track where trains are moving and how fast they're going.

The safety system is aimed at preventing high-speed derailments or crashes.

In 2008, federal lawmakers passed a bill mandating the installation of Positive Train Control on all passenger rail systems. Lawmakers originally set 2015 as the deadline to install the system. That deadline has since been extended to Dec. 31, 2018.

But since 2008, Rio Metro and the state have only set aside a fraction of the money needed for the technology.

While train operators say the Rail Runner has been involved in 17 crashes since it first began service in 2006, Meyers told KRQE News 13 that none of the incidents could have been prevented by a Positive Train Control safety system.

The Rail Runner has submitted a "formal request . for limited operations," according to a quarterly progress report that the Rail Runner submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration on the safety system implementation in August.

While Federal Railroad Administration officials acknowledged the financial difficulties Rail Runner is facing, they also wrote, "We remind you that Congress first enacted the Positive Train Control implementation over eight years ago."

After a recent meeting with FRA officials, Rio Metro Board Chair Maggie Hart Stebbins said she believes that the Rail Runner has a plan that won't result in fines.

"Their message was, 'We want to work with you, this is a mandate from Congress, we're not here to penalize railroads, but we recognize that you are under a tremendous burden and time constraints in complying with federal law,' " Hart Stebbins said.

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Information from: KRQE-TV, http://www.krqe.com

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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