N.J. train crash raises many fa­mil­iar safety is­sues

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Joan Lowy The As­so­ci­ated Press

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a New Jersey com­muter train that hur­tled into a sta­tion build­ing Thurs­day raises many fa­mil­iar is­sues from other crashes, in­clud­ing whether the tragedy could have been pre­vented or mit­i­gated if a key safety tech­nol­ogy had been in place.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board, which is lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, has been call­ing on rail­roads to start us­ing the safety tech­nol­ogy, called pos­i­tive train con­trol, or PTC, for nearly four decades. New Jersey Tran­sit is in the process of in­stalling the tech­nol­ogy, but it was not in op­er­a­tion yet on any of the agency’s trains or tracks.

Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and An­drew Cuomo of New York cau­tioned at a news con­fer­ence that not enough is known yet about the cir­cum­stances of the crash at the Hoboken sta­tion to say if PTC could have made a dif­fer­ence.

“Let’s find out the facts first, and then let’s fol­low the facts,” Cuomo said. any me­chan­i­cal prob­lems with the train or sig­nals, whether the brakes were work­ing and at the con­di­tion of the track. They’ll also ex­am­ine what the train en­gi­neer was do­ing at the time of the crash, his over­all health and whether he was well­rested or fa­tigued.

Op­er­a­tor fa­tigue has been one of the most sig­nif­i­cant on-go­ing safety prob­lems across all modes of trans­porta­tion.

Wit­nesses said the train failed to slow down as it en­tered the sta­tion.

In 2013, a Metro-North Rail­road Hudson Line com­muter train derailed while go­ing around a curve near the Spuyten Duyvil sta­tion in the Bronx, New York. The train was trav­el­ing at three times the posted speed. Four pas­sen­gers were killed and 61 in­jured. The en­gi­neer later ac­knowl­edged that he had gone into a “daze,” and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that he suf­fered from un­treated sleep ap­nea. them from dis­obey­ing sig­nals, de­rail­ing due to ex­ces­sive speed, col­lid­ing with an­other train or en­ter­ing track that is off-lim­its.

The NTSB has said PTC could have pre­vented the Am­trak crash in Philadel­phia. The train was trav­el­ing at more than 100 mph shortly be­fore it en­tered a curve and derailed. Eight peo­ple were killed and over 200 in­jured.

Last month, the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion said in a progress re­port that PTC is only in op­er­a­tion on 9 per­cent of freight route miles and 22 per­cent of pas­sen­ger train miles so far.

New Jersey Tran­sit had yet to fin­ish equip­ping any lo­co­mo­tives with the tech­nol­ogy and had not in­stalled any of the ra­dio tow­ers nec­es­sary to make the sys­tem work or com­pleted in­stal­la­tion on any track seg­ments, the re­port said.

Since the NTSB started urg­ing rail­roads to adopt some form of train con­trol sys­tem in the 1970s, the board says it has in­ves­ti­gated at least 145 PTC-pre­ventable ac­ci­dents in which about 300 peo­ple were killed and 6,700 in­jured.

Af­ter a Metrolink com­muter train and a Union Pa­cific freight train col­lided head-on near Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2008, the in­dus­try dropped its op­po­si­tion, clear­ing the way for pas­sage of a rail safety bill man­dat­ing the tech­nol­ogy.

The Metrolink en­gi­neer was later found to have been tex­ting. Twenty-five peo­ple were killed and more than 100 in­jured. The NTSB said the crash could have been pre­vented or mit­i­gated had PTC been in place.

The Rail Safety Im­prove­ment Act gave rail­roads seven years to im­ple­ment PTC, set­ting a dead­line of Dec. 31, 2015. Last year, when it be­came clear that nearly all rail­roads would miss the dead­line, Con­gress ex­tended it for an­other three years.

Rail­roads say the tech­nol­ogy is more com­pli­cated and ex­pen­sive to im­ple­ment than was ini­tially un­der­stood. Ma­jor freight rail­roads, which fre­quently use each other’s tracks, took years to set­tle on sys­tems that worked no mat­ter which com­pany’s tracks the train was on, a key re­quire­ment of the law.

Some rail­roads ran into dif­fi­cul­ties ac­quir­ing the rights to ra­dio spec­trum, which is nec­es­sary for its wire­less trans­mis­sions. Some com­muter rail­roads have com­plained that they lack the funds and have other press­ing safety needs that should come first.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo, left, speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day on the train crash at the Hoboken Ter­mi­nal as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, lis­tens in Hoboken, N.J.

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