PTC in 2015: A Deadline We Can Live With

Member Robert Sumwalt on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 Derailment in Philadelphia, PA
Member Robert Sumwalt on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 Derailment in Philadelphia, PA

By Mark Jones

As I write this blog, the nation’s eyes are on the derailment of Amtrak train No. 188 in Philadelphia, and the resulting deaths and hundreds of injuries. Like others at NTSB, my thoughts are with the family members of those who were lost, and we hope for a full and speedy recovery for those who were injured.

But this blog contains no breaking news about our investigation into that derailment, which is in its earliest stage, and which might not be complete for another year or more.

Nor does this blog contain any new detail about the Metro North derailment more than a year ago, in which four other people died and at least 61 were injured.

Rather, this blog is about positive train control (PTC,) a technology that could have prevented both tragedies and many more. Positive train control is a technological safety net for the train operator, which stops a train when the operator doesn’t – but needs to.

The NTSB has been calling for a system like this for more than 45 years. It was on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements from the list’s inception in 1990 until Congress overwhelmingly passed The Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) of 2008.

The RSIA mandates that PTC be implemented on certain railroads nationwide by the end of 2015 – including the rail lines on which both of the accident trains mentioned above travelled. Public safety demands that the railroads comply with Congress’ mandate this year.

Yet there is still doubt whether PTC systems will be implemented nationwide this year as required by law. That is why Implement Positive Train Control in 2015 is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List this year.

If you are wondering whether a stretch of track near you is protected by PTC, contact the Federal Railroad Administration.

If you are wondering whether it should be, by the end of this year, the answer is likely “yes.” That is not just the opinion of the NTSB – it is the law.

December 31, 2015, is the deadline for implementing PTC. It is a deadline that railroads – and passengers – can live with.

To learn more about Positive Train Control, see our 2013 forum, Positive Train Control: Is It On Track?

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