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If Big Rail Won’t Stop Train Crashes, Regulators Should

If Big Rail Won’t Stop Train Crashes, Regulators Should

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: Three of the largest freight rail and four of the largest commuter rail companies have told the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration that they will not meet a 2018 deadline to install positive train control (PTC). PTC uses GPS technology to monitor train positions and automatically slow or stop trains that are in danger of colliding, derailing, accelerating out of control or entering the wrong track. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), since 1969, 145 rail disasters– in which 288 people were killed and 6,574 others were injured – would have been prevented by PTC.

In 2018, it will have been 10 years since Congress passed a law requiring rail companies to implement positive train control (PTC), a preventive safety technology that would save hundreds of lives and avoid thousands of unnecessary injuries by stopping rail disasters before they happen. It took eight years for America to put a man on the moon, but Big Rail companies with record earnings cannot manage to install a proven, working technology in 10?

PTC uses the same GPS navigation systems found in any car or smartphone, and the NTSB has been pushing rail companies to install it for decades. The problem isn’t capacity – it is the missing will to follow the law. The delays in installing PTC are due, simply, to the rail industry refusing to make public safety a priority.

It is long past time for regulators and lawmakers to hold the rail industry accountable. Trains that lack basic crash prevention technology don’t belong on the tracks.