The fatal passenger-train crash in New York (NY) last weekend revived interest in automatic braking systems called Positive Train Control. This seems to be the case every time a major train derailment occurs. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates major crashes, has recommended the positive train control for more than 20 years to automatically halt trains that are speeding or disobeying signals. But railroads say they are struggling after spending billions of dollars to meet the congressional deadline. However despite railroad companies complaints that the technology is too expensive, statistics show it would only take about 40% of one year’s worth of net income for the third-largest Class I railroad to cover all the costs.
So instead of complying with the deadline, commuter railroads are asking for an extension to the 2018 deadline which has already been extended from a previous 2015 deadline. Positive train control may never be implemented at this rate and a bipartisan group of senators proposed legislation in July to extend the deadline even longer to 2020, with an option for the Federal Railroad Administration to extend the deadline another two years.
Aside from the cost involved, railroads also cite the fact that passenger, commuter and freight trains must all work together under the same system across 60,000 miles of track. This doesn’t seem like too much of a challenge considering all these trains currently share the same track.
Another problem railroads use as a reason to not implement the technology is that positive train control monitors a train’s location by satellite using Wi-Fi and digital radio signals to ensure it is obeying speed limits and signals. This would require 20,000 new cell towers that must be approved by the FCC. The agency plans to consult on a government-to-government basis along the rail lines. The trade-off of having a cell tower as opposed to the possibility of a train derailing and killing passengers or spilling dangerous chemicals along these routes seems like a pretty good one to me.
These train derailment accidents have tragic and catastrophic consequences. To continue to allow the extensions of safety deadlines is unacceptable.