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Could new train control technology have prevented Metro-North train disaster

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NEW YORK (PIX 11) — A source inside the NYPD says engineer William Rockefeller likely fell asleep before Sunday’s Metro-North derailment.

But what if human error could be taken out of the equation. That’s the goal of Positive Train Control or PTC.

“The engineer still controls the train, but PTC acts as a safeguard to prevent speed and train movement violations.”

Violations like traveling more than 80 miles-per-hour into a curve where the speed limit is 30.


Positive train control could help eliminate human error on trains. (PIX 11)

With PTC,  computers may have slowed or stopped the Metro-North train before it derailed.

That’s why Congress signed the Rail Safety Improvement Act back in 2008 mandating all passenger trains to have PTC by 2015.

But the MTA, which approved it’s first development contracts for the safety improvement last month, recently asked for an extension.

And the Association of American Railroads agrees.

In it’s informational video on PTC, the AAR says 2 more years isn’t enough time.

A nationwide PTC system built, installed, tested and approved on this scale simply cannot happen by the 2015 deadline.

In its report to Congress last year the Federal Railroad Administration acknowledged that rail owners have faced some major challenges.

In the report the FRA said
“…both freight and passenger railroads have encountered significant technical and programmatic issues that make accomplishment of these plans questionable.”

The MTA released a statement saying that the technology is still a work in progress.

“Much of the technology is still under development and is untested and unproven for commuter railroads the size and complexity of Metro-North and LIRR, and all of the radio spectrum necessary to operate PTC has not been made available.”

But PTC has been around for decades and is already in place on smaller stretches of rail throughout the country.

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal says after the latest derailment he’s not likely to vote for the extension.

“I’d be very loathe to be more flexible or grant more time.  Additional delay certainly is not in the interest of rail safety,” he said.

But would PTC have stopped the Hudson line from going off the tracks?

Sen. Chuck Schumer says it’s too early to tell.

“We have to wait for the investigation.  Would it have done some good here? We don’t know,” said Blumenthal.

The MTA plans to continue its effort to install PTC as quickly as possible.

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