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Train travel continues to be risky

You have many options when you want to travel, especially if you live in New York. For transcontinental travel, the train is one of the more popular choices. It is often less expensive than plane fare, infinitely less complicated and more relaxing than driving yourself.

However, travel by train is not without its problems, and among them is the potential for serious injury if the train is involved in an accident. The high speed at which trains travel, extended stopping time and limited alternatives for avoiding a collision often result in catastrophic crashes and mass casualties. The recent, highly publicized Amtrak and CSX collision is one example of how human error can bring tragedy to many families.

Recipe for disaster

The Amtrak train carried more than 100 people, including crewmembers, from New York to Miami when it met with disaster early in the morning. Reports say that two critical issues placed the passengers and crew in danger that morning. First, CSX was in the process of replacing the switch signals with a positive train control system that was not yet operational. The signals alert approaching trains when tracks are switched, but a PTC system would have overridden the train's controls to stop the train if a collision was imminent.

The second issue was that the crew of a CSX train had apparently switched the tracks and diverted off the mainline, leaving their freight train unmanned and idling in the siding. The crew supposedly indicated to their dispatcher that they had left the mainline and that the switch had been returned to its right position. Investigations show that the switch remained padlocked, diverting the Amtrak to the siding at almost 60 mph.

Can positive train control save lives?

You certainly saw the media coverage of the injuries of over 100 passengers on the Amtrak train and the tragic death of two crewmembers. Ironically, the PTC signal system CSX was installing would have likely prevented the crash. You may be interested in knowing that Congress has required such systems on railroads across the country, but the expense has made it difficult for the rail industry to comply.

Nevertheless, you are probably aware that since the beginning of the year, Amtrak has experienced a series of fatal accidents resulting from human error. Because passenger trains often share tracks with freight trains, PTC systems may be the best way to protect you and other travelers from the grave consequences of human error.

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