A nationwide effort to install technology intended to prevent deadly high-speed train crashes is crawling right along.

The end of 2018 brings with it another expected round of extensions for the region’s commuter rails to install the life-saving, crash-preventing, federally-mandated technology Positive Train Control (PTC).

Across the country, 26 out of about 41 railroads have requested an extension to December 2020 for full installation of PTC. That includes NJ Transit and the Long Island Railroad. Metro-North is expected to finalize its extension request Friday.

"I want to be clear I'm disappointed,” MTA board member Neal Zuckerman said at the December board meeting during his presentation on PTC. “I'm disappointed as a board member, I'm disappointed as a rider. I'm disappointed in myself frankly and in our organization for not meeting that deadline."

The Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees the implementation, acknowledges the challenges.

“There is a limited number of PTC system vendors and suppliers, all of which are significantly resource-constrained and serving all 41 railroads and their tenant railroads,” the agency wrote in a report last July.

Part of the holdup is that PTC is not an off-the-shelf technology; it requires customization. And it’s not one technology but several working together: A transponder on the tracks communicates with a computer on the train, which communicates with an office, as well as other railroads that may share the same track. All of this requires specialized equipment, lots of software, and wireless spectrum to transmit data.

In order for a railroad to receive an extension for full implementation, it must’ve already completed six aspects of PTC installation including installing the hardware, training employees and acquiring the wireless spectrum that the system needs to function. And a promise that it will be fully installed and operable by 2020.

“Throughout the course of 2019 and 2020, NJ TRANSIT will continue to install PTC equipment as it continues to restore the ranks of locomotive engineers,” NJ Transit wrote in a statement. “PTC equipment will be installed on the remaining 158 locomotives and cab cars bringing the total number of vehicle installations to 440 by December 31, 2020. NJ TRANSIT will complete training of the remaining 985 employees bringing its total number of PTC trained employees to 2,730.”

At the December board meeting, Zuckerman said if the MTA even hopes to meet the 2020 deadline it will have to “burn the candle at both ends,” and with a looming $1 billion budget shortfall, it will remain a challenge. “We have a paucity of revenue and we have a surfeit of expenses, and that’s very difficult when you’re trying to add goals on.”

He helpfully adds that Metro-North already has speed enforcement technology on trains that would prevent a crash like 2013 Spuyten Duyvil crash attributed to a drowsy engineer.

There are two local bright spots—the Port Authority has finished installing PTC on the PATH system. And Amtrak has completed the work on all but three miles of track near terminals in Chicago and Philadelphia—those are expected to be done by the spring.

Stephen Nessen is the transportation reporter for WNYC. You can follow him on Twitter @s_nessen.