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Port Authority Board Votes To Replace 30-Year-Old Light Rail Emergency Brake System

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

The Port Authority of Allegheny County board voted Friday to replace the emergency brake system on its Light Rail. 

The current emergency brake system uses nearly 30-year-old technology to prevent cars from running into each other.

Port Authority spokesman Adam Brandolph said there is not a safety concern with the current system, but maintenance could be a challenge. 

"The only issue is that we're starting to see a shortage on some parts," according to Brandolph.

Brandolph said ahead of the vote that the Port Authority would enter a $20 million contract with Ansaldo STS USA to improve the emergency brake system. Brandolph said it will cover the installation of the new system over four years without interruption to light rail service. The first year is expected to be a planning phase with installation of new signals and other features of the system to follow.

The new system will use radio frequency and computers to communicate with rail cars and track-based signals. It would bring a rail car to a stop at a red light even if the operator doesn’t hit the brakes.

“The current system’s default for our trains is the ‘go’ position with electronics that tell the system to stop. On the new system, the default is in the ‘stop’ position and the car will only be able to go ahead if all things check out,” Brandolph said.

Similar systems have been used effectively in Europe for years, according to Brandolph.

“European countries are leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S. in rail technology," he said. 

He said Pittsburgh would be among the first U.S. cities to install Ansaldo STS’ trip stop system.