Technology To Avoid Catastrophic Railroad Accidents Is Under Fire
In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act. The law called for the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC), which automatically activates the braking systems of trains that are about to collide with each other or derail. Prior to 2008, a few carriers had voluntarily installed PTC on their track.
The National Transportation Safety Board has called for the use of the technology for more than 20 years in order to prevent accidents that are caused by human error. The agency says that PTC would have averted 21 train accidents since 2001. The accidents resulted in 53 deaths and over 1,000 people injured.
How PTC Works to Avoid Train Wrecks
PTC systems include GPS and wireless communication technology tied to central control centers. The control centers, based on information they receive, can stop or slow trains that are in danger of collision or derailment, thereby preventing injuries or deaths to railroad passengers and workers, and anyone near the potential accident scene.
The law was enacted following a catastrophic collision in California between a commuter train and a freight train that caused 25 deaths and 135 injuries. It requires railroads to install PTC by the end of 2015 on approximately 70,000 miles of track – track that carries trains hauling passengers or hazardous materials.
Opponents of Rail Safety Improvement Act
The Rail Safety Improvement Act has its opponents. Chief among them are the Association of American Railroads, whose members include Amtrak and commercial freight haulers, and the American Public Transportation Association, which represents commuter rail systems. In 2010 the Association of American Railroads sued the U.S. Department of Transportation to halt the regulation. The department, in an effort to end the lawsuit, has proposed reducing the amount of track required to have PTC – between 7,000 and 14,000 miles, or about 10 to 20 percent of the original amount. A decision on the proposed reduction is expected this spring.
According to the Transportation Department’s website, “PTC systems are eligible for funding under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program; however, no railroads have approached the Federal Railroad Administration for funding of PTC projects under this program.”