Construction on rail safety system begins on route from Old Town to Trestles Beach

SAN DIEGO - Rail traffic between San Diego and Los Angeles will soon be safer. It is one of the first areas in the country to get a new fiber optic and GPS control system.

Construction crews began digging trenches and laying down pipes along 60 miles of track on Wednesday. It stretches from Old Town in San Diego to the Orange County line near Trestles Beach.

Project manager Luis Bedoya told 10News, "We've got about 800 feet of conduit in the ground which will later have the fiber pulled through to connect our signal houses and communication infrastructure."

It is an effort to avoid a repeat of the horrific head-on rail collision that occurred near Chatsworth in 2008. Twenty-five people were killed and 135 were injured when a northbound Metrolink commuter train slammed into a Union Pacific freight train going south. 

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the engineer of the commuter train ran a red light because he was distracted and texting on his cell phone.

The new positive train control or PTC would spot danger and automatically take action.

"It's looking out ahead of the train for work zones or other obstructions and will bring the train to a stop prior to violating those areas," said Jay Walser, who is the chief rail systems officer for North County Transit. 

The PTC is a multi-dimensional system that makes joint use of satellite technology and communication links.

Deputy chief rail systems officer Eric Roe added, “It utilizes GPS for train positioning and location and the existing CTC system broadcasts the aspects of the signal to the train and PTC so if a train has a red signal, it'll force the train to stop before that red signal."

He said there is even a failsafe factored in.

"The fiber optics is being installed for our communication network and we're using a redundant base station architecture where each base station has 100 percent redundancy," he said.

The federal government has mandated the PTC system be installed and operating by the end of 2015.

Most of the $87 million cost will be borne by the state and federal governments.

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