298 die in rail crashes that a speed con­trol sys­tem could have stopped

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL - As­so­ci­ated Press

Nearly 300 peo­ple have died in train crashes that could have been pre­vented if rail­roads across the U.S. im­ple­mented crit­i­cal speed- con­trol tech­nol­ogy that fed­eral safety in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been push­ing for close to five decades, ac­cord­ing to rail crash data ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

But de­spite over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence it could save lives, Congress ex­tended the dead­lines for rail­roads to im­ple­ment so-called pos­i­tive train con­trol for years.

All t he while, new high-speed train routes con­tinue to spring into op­er­a­tion with­out the tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing the new route in­volved in Mon­day’s Am­trak crash south of Seat­tle that killed three peo­ple and one in Florida that’s ex­pected to start ser­vice in the com­ing weeks.

Data that the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board pro­vided to AP on Wed­nes­day shows the crashes that the agency says could have been pre­vented by pos­i­tive train con­trol have led to 298 deaths, 6,763 in­juries and nearly $385 mil­lion in prop­erty dam­age.

The records list crashes from 1969 through May 2015 — when an Am­trak train de­railed in Phil­a­del­phia, killing eight peo­ple — and do not in­clude Mon­day’s wreck out­side of Seat­tle, which ex­perts say likely could have been pre­vented by the tech­nol­ogy.

The board first rec­om­mend­ing us­ing “au­to­matic train con­trol” af­ter two Penn Cen­tral com­muter trains col­lided in Darien, Con­necti­cut on Aug, 20, 1969, killing four and in­jur­ing 43.

The GPS- based tech­nol­ogy is de­signed to automatically slow or stop trains that are go­ing too fast and can take over con­trol of a train when an en­gi­neer is dis­tracted or in­ca­pac­i­tated.

“We have rec­om­mended PTC for decades,” Bella Dinh-Zarr, a mem­ber of the NTSB, said Tues­day. “Un­for­tu­nately the dead­line was moved far­ther into the fu­ture, and every year that we wait to im­ple­ment PTC to its fullest ex­tent means that more peo­ple will be killed and in­jured.”

A 2008 Metrolink crash in Cal­i­for­nia that killed 25 peo­ple pushed PTC to be­come a hot-but­ton is­sue on Capi­tol Hill. Law­mak­ers man­dated rail­road com­pa­nies in­stall the GPS-based PTC tech­nol­ogy by 2015, but rail agen­cies said they didn’t have enough time to in­stall the ex­pen­sive, com­pli­cated sys­tem.

De­spite re­bukes from the fed­eral agency that reg­u­lates train travel, congress ex­tended the dead­line un­til the end of 2018 and now, in some cir­cum­stances, rail­roads can ap­ply for an ex­ten­sion un­til 2020.

Pos­i­tive train con­trol was in­stalled on 24 per­cent of the na­tion’s pas­sen­ger route miles and 45 per­cent of freight route miles as of Septem­ber 30, the date of the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s most re­cent quar­terly up­date to its on­line tracker for the tech­nol­ogy.

“Rail­roads need to stop the foot-drag­ging and im­ple­ment Pos­i­tive Train Con­trol with­out de­lay - in­ac­tion puts lives at risk,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, a Demo­crat from Con­necti­cut, said Thurs­day on Twit­ter.

Still, rail­roads are open­ing new lines with­out pos­i­tive train con­trol.

When Am­trak of­fi­cially launched its new, faster route near Seat­tle with­out the tech­nol­ogy Mon­day, it came at a deadly cost.

Ex­perts say it is likely the tech­nol­ogy would have pre­vented the de­rail­ment that killed three peo­ple. The t rain — speed­ing 50 mph (80 kph) over the limit — went off the rails, send­ing sev­eral cars fly­ing off a bridge onto the high­way be­low.

Wash­ing­ton Gov. Jay Inslee said Am­trak had com­mit­ted to try­ing to en­sur­ing the tech­nol­ogy will be in place statewide be­fore the Dec. 31, 2018 dead­line. Am­trak also of­fered to pay all costs as­so­ci­ated with deadly train de­rail­ment, as well as med­i­cal and other ex­penses of the vic­tims, Inslee, a Demo­crat, said. Late Wed­nes­day Wash­ing­ton trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials said pas­sen­ger ser­vice along the rail line where the Am­trak train de­railed won’t re­sume ser­vice un­til the ad­vanced safety sys­tems are in place.

Pos­i­tive train con­trol is ac­ti­vated on the tracks Am­trak owns along the North­east Cor­ri­dor, from Bos­ton to Wash­ing­ton, D. C., and on Am­trak’s Michi­gan l i ne. Many of its lo­co­mo­tives are equipped for pos­i­tive train con­trol. Through­out the rest of the coun­try, Am­trak op­er­ates on track owned by freight car­ri­ers and other en­ti­ties that have made vary­ing progress on in­stalling the tech­nol­ogy.

In Florida, a high­er­speed pas­sen­ger rail ser­vice known as Bright­line is ex­pected to launch in the next few weeks. But pos­i­tive train con­trol will not be op­er­a­tional when the trains roll out on those lines, draw­ing the ire of some lo­cal of­fi­cials and com­mu­nity groups.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.