Date
28 May 2017
Federal investigators examine the scene of the Amtrak passenger train derailment in Philadelphia. The train was traveling at twice the speed limit when it jumped off the track. Photo: Reuters
Federal investigators examine the scene of the Amtrak passenger train derailment in Philadelphia. The train was traveling at twice the speed limit when it jumped off the track. Photo: Reuters

Investigators: Amtrak track lacked safety control

An Amtrak commuter train that derailed Tuesday, killing seven people, was traveling on a track not equipped with advanced safety technology to prevent high-speed accidents.

The technology, called positive train control (PTC), automatically slows or halts trains that are moving too fast or heading into a danger zone, Reuters reported Thursday, citing investigators.

However, the United States rail industry is not required to adopt PTC until the end of this year.

Initial examination of the train’s data recorders determined the train was traveling 171 kilometers per hour in an 80 kph zone.

It would have been impossible for a train to reach such speeds if PTC had been in place, officials said.

“Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” said Robert Sumwalt, a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Amtrak has begun installing components of a PTC system but the network is not yet functioning, federal officials said.

Federal rules require the national rail network to have an operating PTC system by the end of the year, although many lawmakers have endorsed rail industry appeals for more time to comply.

In March, the Senate Commerce Committee voted to extend the deadline for implementing PTC until at least 2020.

Both Republicans and Democrats supported the measure which will now go to the Senate floor.

“This accident is exhibit A for ending the delays and getting positive train control in place,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

The Association of American Railroads has said it wants PTC in place but blames logistical challenges like acquiring radio frequencies and placing transmitter towers for the delay.

“This is not off-the-shelf technology; it has had to be developed from scratch,” said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the trade group.

Installing radio towers and other hardware at congested rail junctions, like the site of the Philadelphia accident, poses unique challenges, according to former and current officials.

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