Train safety technology could have prevented deadly Amtrak crash: report

Train safety technology could have prevented deadly Amtrak crash: report

Train safety technology could have prevented a deadly Amtrak crash in Washington state last month, according to a preliminary report released Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that positive train control, or PTC, could have slowed down a high-speed Amtrak train traveling from Seattle to Portland, Ore., that was going 78 mph in a 30-mph-zone.

The speeding passenger train, which was on its inaugural run, was traveling across a highway overpass and about to enter a curve when several train cars jumped the tracks. Three passengers were killed and scores more were injured in the incident.

PTC automatically slows down a train that is going over the speed limit. The system was originally supposed to be in place nationwide two years ago, but lawmakers pushed back the deadline at the urging of industry groups.

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The technology had already been installed on the track segments where the Washington Amtrak crash occurred, but it was not operational yet, according to Sound Transit, which owns the tracks. The target date to have PTC up and running in the area is the second quarter of 2018.

“In this accident, PTC would have notified the engineer of [the train] about the speed reduction for the curve; if the engineer did not take appropriate action to control the train’s speed, PTC would have applied the train brakes to maintain compliance with the speed restriction and to stop the train,” the NTSB report said.

Congress passed a law in 2008, following a deadly train crash in California, that initially gave commuter and freight railroads until the end of 2015 to install the technology.

But as railroads struggled to meet compliance deadlines, lawmakers agreed to push back the PTC implementation date to at least Dec. 31, 2018, with the option for a two-year extension.

Safety advocates have criticized how slow railroads have been in implementing the potentially life-saving technology, which can prevent derailments, collisions and improper track switching.

Amtrak has so far equipped 49 percent of its locomotives and 67 percent of its track segments with PTC as of the second quarter of last year — the latest data available.

Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoMitch McConnell — the Republican Senate's invaluable engine The lifesaving difference between connected cars vs. self-driving cars Transportation secretary defends brother-in-law’s nomination to lead pension agency MORE called on railroads to implement the technology ahead of the congressionally mandated deadline.

“Advancing the implementation of Positive Train Control is among the most important rail safety initiatives on the Department’s agenda,” Chao wrote in a letter to railroads this week. “The [Federal Railroad Administration] leadership has been directed to work with your organization’s leadership to help create an increased level of urgency to underscore the imperative of meeting existing expecta­tions for rolling out this critical rail-safety technology.”

The NTSB is still investigating a number of other factors that could have contributed to the fatal Amtrak crash last month. Investigators still have not been able to interview either crewmember operating in the lead locomotive because of their injuries, the preliminary report said.