Months After Fatal Crash, Senate Considers Extending Train-Safety Deadline

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Emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)
Officials investigate the Amtrak derailment on May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Joseph Kaczmarek/AP/Corbis

Following a Metro-North train derailment that killed four people in 2013 and the Amtrak derailment that killed eight people in May, politicians in the Northeast called for speeding up the installation of a positive train control system, which can prevent accidents by automatically slowing down trains if they head into curves at high speeds. According to the New York Times, their colleagues in the Senate have responded by trying to give railroad companies another three years to install the safety systems, though they were supposed to be in place nationwide by the end of the year.

The extension appears in a 1,000-page transportation bill set to be debated this week, and predictably, many are irate. “Obviously, the railroad lobbyists have gotten to Congress,” said Mark V. Rosenker, the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “We just had a horrible accident. People died and people ended up becoming paralyzed when that technology was available to the railroad. I am very disappointed.”

Those supporting the extension say PTC technology is expensive and time-consuming to install, but the current deadline was issued seven years ago. While Amtrak said it’s still committed to installing the system in the Northeast Corridor by December, many lines across the country are facing fines and other restrictions if they don’t act soon. Transportation Department officials are demanding that the railroads meet the December deadline, and lawmakers from the Northeast have vowed to fight the extension. “The idea that a provision to delay positive train control was slipped into this bill just a short time after the Amtrak 188 derailment is shocking and wrong,” said Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. “Delaying PTC is a bad idea, and this provision should be stripped out immediately.”