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Rail News: Amtrak

FRA to address speed concerns on all passenger-rail corridors


In a series of actions taken in the wake of last week's deadly Amtrak train derailment, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) yesterday issued an emergency order to control passenger-train speeds on the Northeast Corridor.

The FRA also announced that it will take additional action in the coming days to address potential speed issues on all other passenger-rail corridors.

The order requires Amtrak to improve safety along the corridor, including implementing automatic train control (ATC) code changes and modifications, adopting other safety procedures at several curve locations with significant speed reductions and submitting an action plan to FRA outlining further steps.

"Although we do not yet know what caused the derailment of Amtrak Train #188, the information we do have underscores the need to continue to do all we can to further promote safety along the Northeast Corridor," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a prepared statement. "Today’s action will help prevent similar incidents from occurring on the NEC until Amtrak completes its installation of positive train control later this year."

Amtrak was required to immediately implement a code change to its ATC system near the Frankford Junction curve in Philadelphia, where the derailment occurred. The change must enforce the train speed limit of 50 mph, or lower, for northbound trains approaching the curve. Amtrak implemented this change prior to the restart of service on Monday, FRA officials said.

Amtrak also must survey the NEC to identify each main track curve where there is a reduction of more than 20 mph from the maximum authorized approach speed to that curve for passenger trains, and provide a list of each location to the FRA.

After those curves are identified, Amtrak's action plan must identify appropriate modifications to Amtrak's existing ATC system or other signal systems to enable warning and enforcement of applicable passenger train speeds at identified curves. The railroad also must target dates for implementing each identified modification to its existing ATC system or other signal systems.

Amtrak has to submit its action plan to the FRA within 20 days.

"The Northeast Corridor is the busiest rail corridor in the country, and the steps we have ordered Amtrak to take will immediately improve safety on this busy corridor," said Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg in a prepared statement. "But in the days and weeks to come, we will also do more. While FRA will continue to push Amtrak and other commuter lines to achieve full implementation of positive train control, we will also work with them in the short term to immediately address potential over-speed issues."

Amtrak Train 188 derailed the night of May 12 shortly after it left a Philadelphia station on its way to New York City. Although the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into the cause is continuing, the board has determined that the train was traveling 106 mph — more than twice the posted speed limit — as it approached a curve, then derailed. Eight passengers were killed and more than 200 were injured.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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