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Technology to Prevent Train Accidents Not Widely Implemented

There’s a safety device that could prevent train accidents that’s been around for more than 40 years. It’s called Positive Train Control (PTC) and it monitors and controls the movements of trains, preventing trains from speeding, missing stop signals or entering work zones at the wrong time. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been recommending PTC since 1969 after two passenger trains collided in Connecticut.

Despite the urging of the NTSB, PTC technology exists only on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, on Amtrak’s Michigan tracks and on part of Metrolink in Los Angeles. The result: 138 preventable train accidents, according to the NTSB. These crashes resulted in 284 wrongful deaths, 6,500 injuries and almost $300 million in property damage. And this does not include the Metro-North derailment in the Bronx last December that killed four people.

There is a Congressional order in place for railroads that carry passengers and certain hazardous materials to implement PTC by December 21, 2015. Most railroad companies will not meet that deadline. And Republicans in the U.S. Senate and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) are hoping to either delay or eliminate the deadline altogether.

Joan McDonald, New York State Transportation Commissioner, recently asked the Y.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to keep the current deadline. She said, "If you can put another safety mechanism in there, why wouldn't you want to deploy PTC? Is it because at the end of the day, they want to keep that money for shareholders?"

The dramatic increase in oil trains arriving in Albany from the shale oil fields in North Dakota is a primary reason that McCoy and other public officials are urging the implementation of numerous rail safety improvements such as PTC.

Source: Albany Times Union, “Safety Went Off the Rails,” Jul. 28, 2014.