If a federal agency can be frustrated, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is frustrated. Today, the NTSB is commemorating a five decades old railroad tragedy, and pointing out that the safety recommendation it made in the wake of that incident remains largely unadopted, mostly due to Congressional interference.
After investigating a 1969 train collision in Darien, Connecticut that killed four people and injured 43 others, the NTSB issued – for the first time - a recommendation related to positive train control (PTC), a safety system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, switches left in the wrong position, and incursions into established work zone limits.
It took another deadly train accident – this time in Chatsworth, California, for Congress and federal regulators to finally mandate the installation of PTC.
Deadlines came and went
The first compliance deadline—in 2015—came and went with few railroads meeting it. The second deadline—December 31, 2018— passed, with nearly three quarters of passenger route miles and 83 percent of passenger locomotives still not PTC-operable.
|“Every day that full PTC implementation is delayed puts the public at risk.”
Congress has allowed regulators to grant extensions. Since Congress issued its original 2015 deadline to install PTC, the NTSB says it has investigated many PTC-preventable accidents, including the December 18, 2017, derailment of an Amtrak train in DuPont, Washington, in which three passengers died.
Since the original deadline, the agency says it has investigated many PTC-preventable accidents, including the December 18, 2017, derailment of an Amtrak train in DuPont, Washington, in which three passengers died.
Some railroads still "at risk"
According to the NTSB; “Some railroads have been working hard and spending billions of dollars to implement PTC, improving the safety of many tracks and trains.” However, the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Quarter 3 PTC Status Report notes that five remain “at risk,” with less than 95 percent of their PTC system hardware installed. The five are in danger of not meeting Congressionally mandated deadlines or the criteria necessary for an alternative schedule.
“The extended deadline for the full PTC implementation must be met, and no further extensions should be granted,” the agency said in a statement. “Preventable accidents, injuries, and deaths will continue until PTC is fully implemented. The safety of railroad passengers, train and maintenance crews, and the people who live and work near railroads demands that railroads fully implement PTC before the extended 2020 deadline.
The NTSB is urging the FRA to continue to pressure railroads that did not meet previous deadlines and track the results of implementation.
“Every day that full PTC implementation is delayed puts the public at risk.”