FCC marks automated train safety progress

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved forward with two actions to help automatically control trains and avoid accidents.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the twin moves, which will help manage the rollout of the safety technology and preserve historic sites, was an important step forward for the effort.

“This agreement is an acknowledgement by the freight rail industry of the importance of environmental protection and historic preservation,” he said in a statement.

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The Positive Train Control system, he added, “is a transformative technology that has the power to save lives, prevent injuries, and avoid extensive property damage.”

Late on Monday, the commission announced that it had signed a deal to allow seven freight rail companies to start testing almost 11,000 poles for the automated safety technology.

In exchange, those seven railroads put together a $10 million fund to help states and tribal governments preserve cultural and historic areas.

Additionally, the FCC adjusted its normal procedures for reviewing historic preservation issues. The new process “is tailored to the unique circumstances surrounding the deployment” of the technology and should lead to “timely” review, the FCC said.

Under current law, most U.S. railways need to be equipped with the automated systems by December 2015, but many industry analysts have been skeptical about whether that is truly doable. The system shave been harder to install than many regulators imagined, they say.

Positive Train Control technology allows trains to communicate with a central headquarters and override human error. The communication depends on chunks of the country’s spectrum, which is overseen by the FCC.