Congress has taken a major step toward keeping NJ Transit trains running in the New Year.

The nation's railroads were facing a Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train controls on their systems that would stop trains if they were operating too fast and would help prevent collisions and derailment.

A bill passed on Tuesday extends the deadline to December 31, 2018 to complete installation. The railroads must also submit detailed implementation plans that includes "milestones and metrics" to meet the deadline.

Following the May derailment of an Amtrak passenger train in Philadelphia that killed seven and injured more 200 passengers and crew, a deadline was moved up to December 31 to install PTC on all railroads or face a shutdown.  NJ Transit, along with most commuter railroad around the country, was not expecting to meet the deadline.

"Despite best efforts, technical and other challenges mean that NJ Transit will be unable to meet the current PTC implementation deadline," spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said in a statement. But she said PTC installation would be ready for 2018.

Sarah Feinberg, who has been acting federal railroad administration chief for the past nine months pending confirmation, was set to enforce the deadline.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Chairman John Thune went before Congress in early October to appeal for an extension. Thune expressed support for the installation of PTC but said a shutdown would "wreak havoc" on both passenger and freight service. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker  (D) is a member of the commitee and supported an extension.

The bill moves next on to the Senate for a vote.