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Friday, October 23, 2009

Port Authority awards new PATH signal system contracts

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Fulfilling a commitment to the PATH rail system's long-term growth, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Board of Commissioners authorized more than $340 million worth of contracts to help replace antiquated mechanical train controls on the 101-year-old system with state-of-the-art, computerized signals.

The overall signal project is expected to cost $580 million and is a major part of the Port Authority's $3.3-billion plan to modernize the entire PATH system, an initiative that also includes a new 340-car train fleet and 10-car platforms on the Newark to World Trade Center line.

PATH trains transported nearly 75 million riders in 2008 and the new signals, in tandem with other improvements, are designed to add up to 20-percent capacity to meet the system's future peak-time demands, in addition to increasing safety and reliability while reducing ongoing maintenance costs.

The largest contract awarded Oct. 22, worth $321 million, was awarded to the Siemen's Team for the design, manufacture and installation of the new signal technology, as well as the removal of the old system. Siemen's Team is a consortium of Siemens Transportation Systems, Safetran Systems Corp. and D/A Builders, LLC.

A $21-million professional management contract also was awarded to Booz, Allen, Hamilton Inc. to help oversee the signal project. Additionally, a $2-million contract was awarded to The Rail Safety Consulting, LLC, which will provide an independent assessment and certification of safety standards for the project.

PATH's current signal technology is a century old and still uses key equipment put into service between the early 1900s and the 1940s.  Relying on obsolete components has made it difficult to obtain spare parts, resulting in rising numbers of repairs, costs and service delays.

Conversely, the new system, called Automatic Train Control, uses technology in newly-designed transit systems, as well as replacement of signals in older systems, like New York City Transit subways and the London Underground. ATC coordinates train movements via a computer-controlled radio network.

Following a Los Angeles Metrolink fatal accident in 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration proposed legislation to make FRA-regulated rail lines install "Positive Train Control" technology to prevent train collisions, avoid derailments caused by excessive speeds and protect rail workers in track right-of-ways. The ATC system being adopted and installed by the Port Authority meets the requirements of the FRA's pending legislation.

Signals will be replaced throughout the PATH line's 43 track miles and 13 stations, while the new communications equipment also will be installed inside 130 of the new PATH railcars that have an operating engineer's cab.

The project is slated to start later this year with design and field assessments made next year. Installation of equipment is expected to be ongoing by 2011, with testing of the new signals in 2013. Old signals will be removed as the new system becomes operational, with the project slated to be finished in 2017, though ongoing logistics coordination must be managed carefully to ensure that date is met given all of the other upgrades going on concurrently inside the PATH tunnels.

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