We need automatic braking on trains, but it's going to take a lot of hard work
(3 months ago)
COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Feb. 13: A number of high-profile passenger rail crashes have captured public attention recently. Although their circumstances may differ, the tragedies are a grim reminder that train safety belongs high on our list of transportation policy priorities.
A long-distance train from New York to Miami on February 4 crashed into a freight train on a siding, resulting in two fatalities and 116 injuries. The train carrying a Congressional delegation to West Virginia on January 31 collided with a trash truck just west of Charlottesville, Virgina, causing one death and several injuries. On December 18, a train derailed between Seattle and Tacoma while moving at about 80 miles per hour (far exceeding the 30 mph limit), falling onto Interstate 5 below. Three people died and about 70 more were injured.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), positive train control (PTC), a system that prevents train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position, would have corrected for the overspeed crash in December (the same may be true for the crash in South Carolina). Congress originally mandated that PTC be installed on all passenger and toxic cargo rail lines nationwide by the end of 2015, but that deadline was extended to the end of 2018. It's understandable why NTSB would highlight PTC as an expression of its frustration with delays in implementing this important safety technology. It's been on NTSB's Top Ten Most Wanted List for years.
If Congress directed the implementation of PTC back in 2008, why hasn't the technology been implemented yet? How would PTC address underlying root causes of these recent deadly crashes? The answer to these and other questions: it's complicated. Here's why.