The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Board of Commissioners recently authorized more that $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 which consists of replacing the signals throughout the PATH line’s 43 track miles and 13 stations, while the new communications equipment will also be installed inside 130 of the new PATH railcars that have an operating engineer’s cab 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.

The current signal technology of PATH trains, which supported nearly 75 million riders in 2008 is a century old and still uses key equipment put into service between the early 1900s and the 1940s but 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 new system, called Automatic Train Control, uses technology in newly designed transit systems as well as replacement signals in old systems, like New York City Transit subways and the London Underground. The ATC system, which coordinates train movements via a computer-controlled radio network meets the requirements of the Federal Railroad Administration’s pending legislation to make FRA-regulated rail lines install “Positive Train Control” technology in order to prevent train collisions, avoid derailments caused by excessive speeds and protect rail workers in track right-of-ways. This proposed legislation follows a Los Angeles Metrolink fatal accident in 2008.

The largest contract, in the amount of $321 million, was awarded to the Siemen’s Team, a consortium of Siemens Transportation Systems of Berlin, Germany, Safetran Systems Corp. of Louisville, Kentucky, and D/A Builders, LLC for the design, manufacture and installation of the new signal technology, as well as the removal of the old system. A $21 million professional management contract was also awarded to Booz, Allen, Hamilton Inc. of Florham Park, New Jersey to help oversee the signal project. Additionally, a $2 million contract was awarded to The Rail Safety Consulting, LLC of Pittsford, New York, which will provide an independent assessment and certification of safety standards for the project.

The Port Authority’s action will reduce PATH delays, increase the number of trains that can be run at any given time and improve overall safety and cost efficiency as we bring a century-old system up to 21st Century standards,” said Christopher O. Ward, the Port Authority’s executive director.

The project is slated to begin at the end of the year, press time 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.