Railroad industries don’t want to spend any more money than they have to for safety, even if it means it would save lives. This is evident from the push back that lawmakers are getting from railroad executives. Last year, the industry spent nearly $47 million lobbying the federal government to extend and delay safety deadlines.
The safety technology now in question is the positive train control or PTC that would prevent the most catastrophic types of train collisions. Metrolink and BNSF are on track to meet the deadline. Amtrak is also expected to meet the deadline, but only in its Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, and in Michigan. But according to a law enacted in 2008 all railroad companies are supposed to be up and running by Dec. 31, 2015. However now railroad executives would like the deadline pushed to 2020. The delay is already 43 years in the making. After all they have known about this technology since 1970 when The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all railroads have advanced train control systems.
How important is this technology? It helps cut out the human error portion of railroad safety that is responsible for about 40 percent of train accidents. The PTC safety system uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train position and speed and stop them from colliding, derailing because of excessive speed, entering track where maintenance is being done or going the wrong way because of a switching mistake.
This type of technology could have stopped one of the nation’s worst train accidents. On Sept. 12, 2008, a Metrolink commuter train struck a freight train head-on near Los Angeles, killing 25 and injuring more than 100. The reason for the accident was that the commuter train’s engineer was distracted by text messages. His inattentiveness allowed the train to run through a red signal – precisely the type of accident the system is designed to prevent.
Our railroad accident law firm, Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton and Favaloro has collected and indexed over 1,000 depositions in railroad and similar injury cases, hundreds of specific research files, as well as numerous railroad manuals and videos relating specifically to railroad safety and injury issues. Seeing firsthand the injuries that train derailments and wrecks have caused on victim’s lives makes this new safety law all the more important. Holding railroad companies accountable through safety laws is an important task that our law makers must take seriously.