If you travel by train or live near tracks, Congress is not doing you any favors. Yesterday it passed a bill extending the deadline (see Section 1302) for the implementation of the potentially life-saving Positive Train Control (PTC) braking control system on all trains by three years to December 31, 2018. PTC slows trains that are traveling too fast based on their location and could stop deadly derailments. It acts as a backup for distracted engineers that have failed to slow their locomotives when approaching curves or have ignored signals. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), up to 70 percent of rail operators would not meet the safety standard by the original December 31, 2015 deadline.
According to the NTSB, PTC could have prevented the head-on collision between a commuter and freight train in Chatsworth, California in 2008. In its report it states: "Contributing to the accident was the lack of a positive train control system that would have stopped the Metrolink train short of the red signal and thus prevented the collision." The accident resulted in the death of 25 people.
Christopher A Hart, NTSB chairman, reiterated the need for PTC when addressing the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure after the tragic May 2015, derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people. During his address he said, "without Positive Train Control (PTC), real-world results have been tragic." He added, "positive train control would have prevented the May 12 accident." The train was traveling 106 miles-per hour on a curve rated 50 miles-per hour when it jumped the tracks.
The PTC implementation delay was buried in the middle of a transportation funding bill with the new compliance date set to December 31, 2018. Rail operators can also file an alternative schedule that gives them until the end 2020 to add PTC to their vehicles. The original mandate was part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
Congress extended the deadline after rail carriers and lobbyists like the Association of American Railroads warned that many trains would not be ready and to keep from violating federal would have to "suspend some service and operations."
[Image credit: Getty Images/AFP]