T discloses problems with anti-collision system
If issues not diagnosed quickly, service could be interrupted
MBTA OFFICIALS, trying to meet a federal deadline of December 2020, disclosed on Monday that a key subcontractor working on an anti-collision system for the commuter rail system is having difficulty determining what’s causing its hardware and software to malfunction.
The subcontractor, Siemens, brought in a team of specialists this week to try to figure out what’s going wrong. If the problems are resolved fairly quickly, commuter rail passengers will not feel any impact. But if the problems aren’t sorted out relatively soon, T officials warned that some commuter rail lines might have to be shut down for failing to meet the federal deadline for compliance.
“It could have a very major impact on service,” said John Ray, the MBTA’s director of railroad operations.
The installation of the $450 million positive train control system had been proceeding fairly smoothly until February 4, when the T began testing the system on the Lowell Line of the commuter rail system. One day later, Siemens, the subcontractor, announced a recall of three components of the system, which relies on transponders on the tracks communicating with antennae on the trains to track train locations.
Karen Antion, who is overseeing the project for the MBTA, told the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that she had hoped to report that the problem had been resolved.
“We found out that wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t the root cause,” she said of the capacitor issue.
Siemens brought in a team this week to attempt to diagnose the problem and hopes to have a report completed by Friday. T officials are nervous because software updates to the Siemens system are coming in June and November, and if those updates require additional improvements it can take another six to nine months to complete them.
“When it takes that long to get some fairly minor defects fixed, that’s a real challenge and it’s a risk to the program,” Antion said.
Testing on the Fitchburg commuter rail line was scheduled to start on Saturday, but that was put off with no resolution of the problems on the Lowell line. The Lowell line is required to have 384 consecutive runs without experiencing any problems before the anti-collision system can be tested on other lines to the north of Boston. The closest the T has come so far is 143 runs.
Commuter rail lines to the south of Boston operate under a different protocol, and several lines, including Stoughton, Fairmount, Middleboro, and Greenbush, are up and running.
Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the control board, said two recalls in such a short time period are troubling, and may signal the need to start over. He said he was also disheartened to learn that Siemens had not raised concerns about its system prior to the initial February 4 start date for testing.
A Siemens executive attended the control board meeting and promised the company’s “A-team” would be reviewing the situation this week. Antion said there is little the T can do since the equipment is proprietary.