Watchdog: Amtrak not properly budgeting for automated braking system

Watchdog: Amtrak not properly budgeting for automated braking system

Amtrak has made substantial progress in equipping an automated braking system along its routes, but the company still has not adequately budgeted for the potentially life-saving technology, according to the passenger rail’s watchdog group.

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An Office of Inspector General (OIG) report released Friday found that Amtrak is making headway in implementing Positive Train Control (PTC), which automatically slows a train that is going over the speed limit and can prevent fatal crashes.

But there are a significant number of tasks to complete before Amtrak reaches its goal of full implementation by the end of 2018, according to the OIG.

The progress report comes just more than a week after a speeding New Jersey Transit train crashed into the Hoboken, N.J., station, killing one person and injuring more than 100.

The incident has renewed calls for PTC, as railroads have been slow to adopt the technology. Congress originally required railroads to have the system in place by the end of 2015 but extended the deadline to at least the end of 2018.

Amtrak has been seen as one of the leaders in the PTC field, especially as some railroads have made little or no progress installing the technology.

But the OIG said Amtrak still needs to complete the remaining 33 percent of its planned trackside installations, submit a safety plan to the Federal Railroad Administration, resolve potential radio frequency spectrum issues and install onboard systems in its locomotives.

The report also raised concern that Amtrak is not properly accounting for the full cost of the technology and that PTC may cost “millions more than is currently budgeted.”

The company has spent about $183 million on PTC implementation through June 30 and plans to spend about another $35 million through 2018.

But those estimates are “incomplete” and don’t include other potential contingency costs, according to the report.

“A senior official in the Finance department told us that the company has yet to determine how to pay for these expenses,” the report says. “Because of the potential magnitude of these costs, not acknowledging these potential liabilities in its financial plans affects the accuracy and usefulness of the company’s budgets and federal grant requests.”

The OIG is encouraging the passenger rail system to update its costs estimates in order to ensure that sufficient funds are available for the project.

The report also recommends that Amtrak enhance project schedules to better track the completion of key events and remaining tasks and clarify the roles of managers who are responsible for PTC implementation.

Amtrak agreed with all three recommendations, according to the report.