Most Railroads Won’t Meet Deadline for Safety Controls, Report Says

7 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Editorial: Railroads running away.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Only a handful of railroads are close to meeting a deadline this year to install safety technology that can prevent many crashes, including derailments due to excessive speed like the deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia in May, according to a government report released Friday. When Congress decided seven years ago to impose new regulations to make the rail industry much safer, nobody was even talking about the dangers of oil trains that carry thousands of tankers loaded with highly combustible crude oil through populated areas.

Only three railroads have submitted safety plans to government, a necessary step before they can put the technology — positive train control, or PTC — into operation, the Federal Railroad Administration report said. They are BNSF Railway, the nation’s second largest freight railroad, and two commuter railroads — Metrolink in the Los Angeles area, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in the Philadelphia area. The risks of these trains, as demonstrated by many recent derailments and accidents that have resulted in explosions — and, in one tragic incident, 47 deaths — were largely unknown. Known as positive train controls, or PTC, some rail safety experts say that had they been in place already, it would have prevented the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia earlier this year and the deadly Metro North crash at Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx in December 2013.

The type of PTC being put into place by most railroads relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train position and automatically stop or slow trains that are in danger of derailing because they’re traveling too fast, are about to collide with another train or are about to enter an area where crews are working on tracks. But the latest Senate version of the transportation funding bill would delay by at least three more years the implementation of this important safety system.

As it now stands, the $55 billion legislation contains specious language that effectively gives the industry an open ended loophole allowing continued delays activating PTC until the railroads are “prepared to do so safely, reliably and successfully.” If the past eight years is anything to go by, the industry — or at least the most profitable and most resistant sector — may never be “prepared.” What makes this legislation even more outrageous is that it cuts funding for one of the only industry sectors that seems to be making an honest effort to comply with the PTC deadline, Amtrak. The Association of American Railroads estimates it will cost $10 billion to fully implement PTC, and claims the companies have already spent half that working to develop the new technology. Support for a lengthy extension diminished after accident investigators said the May 12 Amtrak crash, which killed eight people and injured about 200 others, could have been prevented if PTC had been in operation.

Richard Blumenthal, are favoring an alternative bill that would hold the industry to the 2015 deadline, while providing some exceptions on a case-by-case basis. The board has said that over that time it has investigated 145 PTC-preventable accidents in which more than 300 people were killed and 6,700 injured.

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