ptc

One woman was killed and over 100 people were injured when a commuter train plowed through the barrier at the end of the tracks and crashed into a wall in Hoboken terminal September 29, 2016. A train is supposed to come to a stop about 10-20 feet in front of the bumper at a speed of 10 miles per hour. The Hoboken train that crashed was traveling twice that speed when it jumped over the bumper and onto the concourse.

There Was Enough Blame to Go Around

The engineer of the train that crashed was found to have the dangerous fatigue-inducing disorder sleep apnea, which caused him to fall asleep at the controls. The Federal Railroad Administration on December 2, 2016 then issued a safety advisory calling for mandatory sleep apnea screening and treatment for all railroad engineers, something it first recommended in 2004. On December 1, 2016, the engineer sued Metro-North for negligence, blaming the railroad for failing to install the Positive Train Control system that would have stopped the train when he fell asleep.

Positive Train Control Would Have Prevented the Disaster

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) cited lack of state investment in new technology as the primary reason for crashes. On Nov. 28, 2016 the agency released data showing slow progress installing Positive Train Control technology, which prevents train speeding.

Positive Train Control (PTC) is a GPS-based safety technology that monitors and controls train movement caused by human error, and can bring a train to a safe stop in the event of a disaster. PTC communicates through a train’s onboard computer visual and audible information to train crew members when the train needs to be slowed or stopped.

That information includes:

  • The status of approaching signals
  • The position of approaching switches
  • Speed limits at approaching curves and other speed-reducing locations
  • Speed restrictions at approaching crossings
  • Speed restriction at work areas near tracks

PTC is capable of preventing train-to-train collisions, over-speeding derailments, and train movement caused by switches left in the wrong position. If the engineer does not respond to the audible warning and screen display, the onboard computer will activate the brakes and safely stop the train.

Politics and Funding Delays Train Safety Technology

Positive Train Control has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s list of most wanted safety innovations since the 1990s. In 2008, Congress passed a law requiring all railroads to install Positive Train Control by December 31, 2015, but many railroad networks, including New Jersey’s, are behind in implementing it. Congress has extended the deadline to December 31, 2020.

By Sept 30, 2016, passenger railroads throughout the country had installed PTC on 23% of their tracks, compared to 22% in the previous quarter. Due to political delay and lack of funding, as of December 2, 2016, Metro-North and NJ Transit have not installed Positive Train Control on any of its tracks.

California Installs PTC in All of Its Rail Network

West coast commuter railroads have shown the most progress with installing PTC technology. After an engineer failed to stop a California Metrolink train, causing a collision with a Union Pacific freight train on September 12, 2008, killing 25 and injuring 135 other people, California adopted its Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which mandated the installation of PTC by the end of 2015. At an expense of over $200 million, by 2015 Metrolink had installed Positive Train Control in all of its 512-mile rail network.