Delays possible as North County Transit District rolls out a new operating system

COASTER

SAN DIEGO – Coaster train passengers could experience delays beginning Monday as the North County Transit District rolls out a new operating system designed to enhance safety, the agency announced Sunday.

The new Positive Train Control system, which by congressional mandate must be fully implemented by the end of next year, is a command, control, communications and information system for controlling train movements. The PTC system is designed to make rail service safer and more efficient.

NCTD has already tested the system extensively on non-passenger trains ahead of the testing on passenger trains slated to begin Monday.

“Safety is NCTD’s top priority,” said Eric Roe, NCTD’s deputy chief operations officer of rail systems. “Implementing a system as complex as this does not happen overnight. But with that complexity comes a great leap forward in greater rail safety.”

But as NCTD begins to implement the new operations system, there could be delays at boarding sites and unexpected stops on the rails.

“Passengers may experience delays at origin locations — Oceanside Transit Center or Santa Fe Depot — when trains are initializing the system,” NCTD’s Eric Sawyer said. “The trains could also come to a brief stop based on PTC automatically applying the brakes.”

But the long-term safety benefits are expected to be worth the short- term headaches caused by possible delays. NCTD officials say the new system “will improve railroad safety by significantly reducing the probability of collisions between trains, casualties to roadway workers, and accidents that occur due to speeding.”

The system is designed to eliminate human error — the cause of most major train crashes — by using GPS technology, digital communications and on- board computers to monitor train locations. It’s designed to automatically override dangerous train movements, including stopping a train if the crew cannot.

Congress signed a law in 2008 requiring that all passenger trains run on the PTC operating system by the end of 2015, though that deadline was later pushed back to December 31, 2018. The NCTD has been developing, testing and implementing the system since the law was passed.

The entire planning and implementation of the PCT system is budgeted to cost NCTD more than $87 million, with 67 percent of the funding coming through state sources, 30 percent through federal sources and three percent through local sources.