“We believe that PTC should ultimately be in place for all Amtrak routes and, as a matter of US policy, PTC should be required for all passenger rail trips in America.”
The US train operating company, Amtrak, has intensified the issue of rail safety on the country’s tracks by suggesting it will suspend operations on tracks not equipped with positive train control (PTC) after the 31st December deadline set by Congress has elapsed. PTC is a radio or GPS-based system that can directly influence the speed of trains operating on the tracks, slowing them down or stopping them to prevent incidents and collisions from occurring.
The federal- and state-funded train company’s president and CEO, Richard Anderson, told a House subcommittee he had serious misgivings about operating trains on tracks it doesn’t maintain which aren’t protected by PTC – a huge decision given that that would account for much of Amtrak’s network. Amtrak operates 44 routes on a network in excess of 20,000 miles that links many of the US’s major cities and three cities in Canada.
Speaking on the latest announcement, and reported in the Chicago Tribune, Anderson told the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials “We believe that PTC should ultimately be in place for all Amtrak routes and, as a matter of US policy, PTC should be required for all passenger rail trips in America,” said Anderson, who added that the systems were a vital last line of defence.
Amtrak trains have been involved in four fatal incidents this year, accidents it has been suggested that could have been averted had it been for PTC. The US isn’t expected to successfully meet the 31st December deadline for PTC, as presently only around 24% of passenger networks and 45% by freight have been updated. In total, Congress has made more than £710m ($1bn) in grant funding for the implementation PTC, according to the US Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
SmartRail World reported this month on the National Transportation Safety Board’s claim that the major crash involving an Amtrak train in South Carolina, which claimed the lives of two Amtrak employees, could have been prevented with PTC. However, not everyone sees it as such a cut and dry issue, with many more factors determining the outcome of accidents. In the case of the South Carolina incident, Paul Tipper contacted SmartRail World to say that PTC would have made no difference owing to the track switch that it was alleged to have been padlocked in place.
Calling PTC “far from a perfect system”, Peter Darmody also contacted SmartRail World and added that the system had “many financial and technical hurdles to overcome”, with many components used such as servers becoming quickly obsolete that require expensive upgrades to keep them up to date.
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