One Year Until Federal Government Deadline for Positive Train Control

Rail safety is top of mind for passengers at New Haven’s Union Station a day after the deadly train derailment in Washington state.

“It’s very uneasy knowing that a train crashed yesterday and I’m going on the train today,” said Armani Boutros, a University of New Haven student taking the train back home to Boston for the holiday break.

This latest tragedy on the tracks is similar to what happened in May 2015 near Philadelphia. Eight people died when a train traveling more than 100 miles per hour derailed on a curve with a posted speed limit of more than 50 miles per hour.

Since then, Amtrak said it has fully installed Positive Train Control along the 603 miles of the Northeast Corridor from Washington D.C. through Connecticut to Boston.

Positive Train Control, or PTC, was not installed where the train flew off the tracks in Washington, NTSB investigators said. PTC is meant to automatically stop trains when they are going to fast or entering dangerous conditions.

Congress passed a law requiring railroads to install PTC after the 2008 head on train collision killing 25 people near Los Angeles. The original deadline lawmakers set was the end of 2015, but Congress later gave railroads three more years until Dec. 31, 2018.

“We are moving heaven and earth to meet the Positive Train Control deadline by the end of 2018,” Chairman of the MTA Joseph Lhota said Tuesday. “We are well on our way there with both Metro North and the Long Island Railroad.”

A few years back, MTA spokesperson Aaron Donavan said the company installed something known as automatic civil speed enforcement, which makes sure trains slow down before critical curves like in Bridgeport on the New Haven Line.

“What happened yesterday in Washington state would not happen on either Metro North or the Long Island Railroad because we’ve put civilian speed control in place,” Lhota said. “It would have prevented what happened there happening in any one of our facilities.”

Terry Griesing rides Metro-North daily in New York, but Tuesday her trip was on an Amtrak Acela train from New Haven to Boston.

“It’s still a bit alarming to me,” she said. “I feel like our congressmen and government needs to take this more seriously to protect the safety of the millions of people who travel on trains every year.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal called it a “moral obligation” for Congress to make sure PTC implementation is fulfilled by the end of 2018.

“If we do nothing else in this Congress, let us insist that that deadline be met without additional delay,” Sen. Blumenthal said on the Senate floor.

PTC could have prevented the fatalities from the Washington state derailment and other recent tragedies on the tracks, Blumenthal said.

“Eighty miles an hour in a 30 mile per hour zone, that fact is absolutely stunning and scandalous,” he said.

Before boarding her train, Griesing was pleased to learn that Amtrak already activated PTC between New Haven and Boston back in 2000.

“That makes me feel a lot safer traveling today,” she said. “I have four children so I’m sure they’ll be happy to know as well.”

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