New system to make Metra trains safer could also be causing delays

CHICAGO — Local, federal and Metra officials celebrated a major milestone in their efforts to make trains safer Monday, even as riders faced another difficult morning commute.

Metra is still working to add Positive Train Control (PTC) to its lines, a federally-mandated safety system designed to stop trains before certain types of crashes can happen. Metra said from the beginning that it would be a long and expensive process, as the system had to be added to every vehicle, and all the railway's communications, signals, control centers and computer systems need to be updated as well.

Railroads have been working on adding the system for the last decade. Metra officially finished the installation of PTC equipment on Monday, but there's still more work to be done. The Rock Island Line is next, followed by the UP Lines and Electric Line. Metra aims to get the system fully operational by 2020.

Metra is paying $400 million for the project, shifting the money from its rehab and new purchase budget to pay for the updates. Just last week, officials voted against a Metra fare increase in 2019, hoping to get help paying for the improvements from Springfield instead.

Regardless, Metra lines like the BNSF continue to have their share of problems and delays, and the new system could be a partial cause. As recently as Monday afternoon, Train 1270 was delayed due to track construction. Back in June, when Metra launched PTC on the BNSF line, issues included over-crowded trains, malfunctioning air conditioning and delays caused by both PTC and the schedule changes necessary to accommodate it. The Metra Electric Line may also require schedule changes when its turn arrives.