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Rail News: Amtrak

NTSB: PTC would have prevented Amtrak train derailment


Positive train control (PTC) was not installed on the track in Philadelphia where an Amtrak train traveling over 100 mph derailed Tuesday night, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced yesterday. At least seven people died and another 200 people were injured in the accident.

Amtrak has installed its PTC system, known as Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES), on most of the Northeast Corridor, but it was not installed in the area where Train 188 derailed. Had a system been in place at that location, "this accident would not have occurred," NTSB Member Robert Sumwalt said at a press conference.

"ACSES is designed to enforce the civil speed to keep the train below the maximum speed. We have called for this type of system for many, many years," Sumwalt said.

Congress mandated in 2008 that railroads must install PTC by Dec. 31, 2015, but did not provide the funding to do so. The railroad industry has repeatedly indicated that most railroads will not have the complex technology in place in time to meet the deadline. A proposal now before Congress would extend the deadline to 2020.

The NTSB has not yet determined the cause of Tuesday's derailment, however. Its investigation will examine the train's speed, which reached 106 mph as the train approached a curve — where the limit is 50 mph — and then derailed. The agency also will examine the track, signals, event recorders, train operations and the mechanical condition, including the brake systems, Sumwalt said.

According to the agency's preliminary investigation, the train left the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia at about 9:10 p.m. bound for Penn Station in New York City. The train consisted of one locomotive and seven passenger cars. According to Amtrak, 238 passengers and five crew members were on board.

By 9:21 p.m., as it traveled through a lefthand curve, the entire train derailed. Moments before the derailment, the train's engineer applied the train's emergency brake. Three seconds later, when the event recorder stopped, the train's speed was 102 mph, Sumwalt said.

The locomotive and all but two passenger cars have been moved to a secure location where they will undergo further examination and documentation. The NTSB released the track back to Amtrak, which will begin rebuilding it soon, Sumwalt said.

NTSB investigators will remain at the derailment scene for the next several days to gather additional information that will be used as part of a thorough analysis to determine the accident's cause. Passengers and crew, including the engineer, will be interviewed, Sumwalt said.

"Our mission is to find out what happened and why it happened to prevent it from happening again," he said.
Amtrak funding questioned on Capitol Hill

Meanwhile, the derailment prompted a debate in Congress yesterday over infrastructure investment, including funding for Amtrak. Republican members of the House Committee on Appropriations yesterday approved $1.14 billion for Amtrak for fiscal-year 2016, a $262 million cut from this year's enacted amount of $1.39 billion. Republicans rejected an amendment from Democratic members that would have increased Amtrak funding by an additional $1.3 billion.

Amtrak and railroad infrastructure funding also came up during yesterday's hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's subcommittee on railroads.

Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) expressed their condolences to the Amtrak accident victims and their families, and promised to work with federal investigators to determine the derailment's cause.

Democratic committee members Peter Defazio (D-Ore.) and Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) said now is not the time to cut Amtrak's funding.

"We agree with our Republican friends, we need to let the [derailment] investigation take its course, but we absolutely do not need to make deeper cuts that will increase the $21 billion maintenance and repair backlog and further jeopardize the safety of the traveling public,” the Democratic congressmen said in a joint press release.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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