LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — In the wake of Sunday’s deadly train derailment in New York, pressure is increasing on commuter rail systems around the country to speed up installation of a high-tech accident-prevention system.
Four people were killed and more than 70 others were injured Sunday when engineer William Rockefeller reportedly “nodded off” just before the Metro-North train flew off the tracks at 80 mph on a 30 mph curve.
KCAL9’s Dave Bryan reports that some rail safety experts believe a system known as positive train control (PTC) could have prevented the accident.
In the aftermath of the 2008 Metrolink crash in Chatsworth, which took 25 lives, Congress approved funding for the system.
Installation of PTC began with Southern California’s Metrolink commuter trains.
“It’s a very elaborate, state-of-the-art GPS-based technology, which allows our trains to be controlled remotely,” Metrolink’s Jeff Lustgarten said.
All 147 Metrolink commuter trains will be linked to a central monitoring system that measures the speed and location of the trains.
If a train is on a collision course with another train, or is barreling into a sharp curve at a high speed, the system will warn the conductor and slow down the train itself if the conductor doesn’t do so.
Richard Katz, the former chairman of the Metrolink Board of Directors, said the system can prevent accidents.
“Positive train control can take over the controls of the train and slow it down safely so there’s no jamming the emergency brake at the last moment or trying to fix a problem after it’s already started. This is designed to prevent accidents from happening,” he said.
In the Southland, more than 500 miles of Metrolink track are scheduled to be equipped with the technology by next summer, but most other rail agencies across the nation said the scope and the cost of the project will make a 2015 completion date all but impossible.
“Thousands and thousands of pieces of equipment … must be retrofitted” to roll it out, noted Kathy Waters of the American Public Transportation Assn.
In New York, operators of the Metro-North trains have asked Congress to extend the 2015 deadline by three years.
Katz said Metrolink is spending nearly $220 million to install the system in Southern California, and the company is scheduled to begin testing it next month.
“We believe that every year you delay positive train control, people will die that don’t have to,” Katz said.