Would Advanced Technology Have Prevented the Metro-North Derailment?

As federal investigators focus on the likelihood of human error being the cause of the Dec. 1 derailment that killed four passengers, attention has been placed on the federal requirement for all railroads to install positive train control systems.
December 5, 2013, 7am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"We're leaning more toward human error than mechanical," National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Earl Weener said of where the investigation is leading.

"The indication of human error has renewed pressure on Metro-North and the (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) MTA to make progress on new anticrash systems known as 'positive train control.' The systems use a computer back office and sensors on track equipment and trains to spot potential accidents—including impending derailments caused by speeding and train-to-train collisions—and stop trains before they crash," explained Ted Mann.

Thomas Prendergast, chairman of the MTA said his agency (that operates Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road) was committed to installing PTC systems. But the MTA has said it is "not possible" to meet the federal deadline of December 2015 to install the complex signal equipment.

Earlier, Mann looked at where two senators from the two main states that Metro-North serves stood on the deadline issue. New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer "said he would wait for the investigation's outcome before saying whether he would press railroads to meet the deadline. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) was adamant that the deadline be met."

Also on Tuesday, Mann wrote that a spokeswoman for Metro-North said, "If the accident was caused by speeding, PTC would have stopped it", confirming what Metrolink chairman Richard Katz forewarned about implementing PTC in Feb., 2012.

"This is the most important development in our lifetimes as far as rail safety is concerned. Every year we delay, more people are going to die that don't have to."

Mann also writes that "Federal Rail Administrator Joseph Szabo wrote on Tuesday to Mr. Prendergast, warning of "serious concerns" with Metro-North's safety record over the past year...", also reported in Transportation Nation.

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Published on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 in The Wall Street Journal - New York
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