Major rail safety technology installed before deadline

Josh Funk
Associated Press

Omaha, Neb. – The railroad industry has installed an automatic braking system on nearly 58,000 miles of track where it is required ahead of a yearend deadline, federal regulators said Tuesday.

Federal Railroad Administration chief Ronald Batory said railroads worked together over the past 12 years to develop and install the long-awaited technology known as positive train control, or PTC. The roughly $15 billion braking system is aimed at reducing human error by automatically stopping trains in certain situations like when it’s in danger of colliding, derailing because of excessive speed, entering track under maintenance or traveling the wrong direction because of switching mistakes.

The W train passes an MTA official at the Mid-Day Storage Yard Services Building during a news conference on Positive Train Control, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York.

“PTC is a risk reduction system that will make a safe industry even safer, and provide a solid foundation upon which additional safety improvements will be realized,” Batory said.

Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi, left, and Long Island Rail Road President Phillip Eng, right, listen as Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Patrick Foye speaks during a news conference on Positive Train Control, a federally mandated rail safety technology, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in New York.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said more than 150 train crashes since 1969 could have been prevented by positive train control, which was required in 2008 after a commuter train collided head-on with a freight train near Los Angeles, killing 25 and injuring more than 100. Congress extended the original 2015 deadline twice and gave railroads until the end of this year to complete the system.

The braking system uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train position and speed, and it can give engineers commands. The NTSB said the system could have prevented the December 2017 derailment of an Amtrak passenger train in Washington state that killed three passengers and injured 57 people.

Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads trade group, said completing the positive train control systems is an important milestone for the industry that will “enhance safety and springboard innovation long into the future.”