Could The Amtrak Crash Have Been Avoided?


According to officials, Tuesday's deadly train crash could have been avoided. The track where the Amtrak train crashed didn't have positive train control, a piece of safety technology that could have prevented the high-speed derailment, investigators said Wednesday. The derailed train was traveling more than twice the speed limit for the curve in Philadelphia where it crashed, which could have been avoided if a system called positive train control was installed.

PTC automatically slows or stops trains traveling too quickly or heading into danger zones by using GPS, wireless radio, and computers to track a train's location, according to Reuters. The Associated Press reported the PTC system was designed to prevent human error, which currently accounts for roughly 40 percent of all train accidents in the country.

In 2008, Congress required Amtrak and all freight and commuter railroads in the country to install the PTC technology by the end of 2015, but that deadline won't likely be reached, according to the AP. Amtrak had started installing the PTC system, including in the Northeast Corridor where Train 188 crashed, but the network wasn't yet functioning, authorities said. There's currently a proposal in Congress that would give railroads up to seven more years to complete the installation of the safety tech.

But PTC isn't without controversy. Critics have long questioned whether the system is the right solution for reducing the number of derailments, collisions, and ultimately, deaths. A complete PTC system would cost a lot — think somewhere in the billions. A 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office found the system would only reduce 30 percent of accidents. And given the different companies managing both the trains and the tracks, it would be difficult to sync all of them onto one network.

Those criticisms, however, pale in comparison to the tragic deaths of eight people, and the idea there was something that could have prevented the accident is definitely worth more than just noting. Preliminary data revealed the train was traveling at more than 100 miles per hour in an 80 miles per hour zone before entering the sharp curve, which had the reduced speed limit of 50 miles per hour. The train's black box showed the engineer, identified as Brandon Bostian, pulled the emergency brake, but by then, it was already too late. According to officials, the train would have been unable to reach such high speeds going into the turn if the PTC system was installed.

Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday said:

Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.

Officials are set to conclude their investigation in the coming days and will likely have more information on what specifically caused the crash. But here's something that's also worth pointing out while we're still on the safety control talk: Within hours of Tuesday's crash, a House committee voted to cut funding for railroad service.

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