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Positive train control in spotlight

The recent derailment of an Amtrak train that was speeding excessively outside of Philadelphia has focused attention over the implementation of safety technologies for commuter, intercity and freight trains. Earlier this year, the National Transportation Safety Board listed the use of positive train control systems, as mandated by Congress, as one of its most wanted improvements for 2015.

PTC is a system of functional requirements that monitors and controls a train’s movements. If a train engineer does not operate the train at the proper speed or fails to stop the train at a red traffic signal, PTC can slow down or stop the train.

The NTSB has advocated the implementation of a similar system for over 45 years. It argued that PTC could have prevented a September 2008 accident where a Metrolink commuter train collided head on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, California.That crash caused 25 fatalities and over 100 injuries. The NTSB concluded thatthe engineer was texting and drove past a red signal.

In another accident, a Metro-North commuter train derailed in the Bronx in December 2013. The derailment claimed four lives and injured dozens of others. The train’s engineer fell asleep and drove the train 50 mph more than the speed limit for entering a curve, according to the NTSB’s investigation.

Responding to the Chatsworth collision, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandating implementation of the PTC systems for each Class 1 rail carrier and all providers of regularly-scheduled intercity or commuter rail services by December 31, 2015. However, the NTSB expressed concern that this deadline will not be met by the end of this year.

The delay with implementing safety technologies increases the likelihood of mass transit accidents. Victims of these accidents and their families may have the right to compensation in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Prompt legal advice should be sought to help determine whether negligence or recklessness led to transit accidents.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board, “Implement Positive Train Control in 2015,” Retrieved May 15, 2015