Could Positive Train Control Have Prevented Recent Train Crashes?

Train accident

A recent Amtrak train crash in South Carolina caused two deaths and more than 100 injuries. Over the Super Bowl weekend, Amtrak Train 91 crashed into a stationary CSX freight train. According to investigators, a misaligned track switch caused Amtrak Train 91 to enter the side of the tracks where the other train was resting. There have been four Amtrak train crashes in the last several months. Last December, three people died when Amtrak Train 501 derailed in DuPont, Washington. In mid-January, a pastor and his wife were killed in North Carolina when an Amtrak train hit their SUV. On February 1, an Amtrak train carrying members of Congress crashed in Virginia.

Positive train control (PTC) is a technology that was designed to prevent train crashes like the ones described above. PTC can automatically apply the brakes when train engineers ignore or miss warnings to slow down. In addition, PTC can prevent trains from entering tracks when the switch is left in the wrong position (much like the accident in South Carolina).

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has determined that PTC could have prevented multiple recent train crashes. According to the NTSB, PTC would have stopped the 2015 derailment of Amtrak Train No. 188 in Philadelphia. In that crash, eight people died and more than 200 suffered injuries. More recently, the NTSB’s preliminary report suggested that PTC could have stopped Amtrak Train 501 from derailing in December. The NTSB most recently said that PTC would have stopped Amtrak Train 91 from crashing in Virginia.

When Will PTC Be Installed on Railways?

Congress has repeatedly pushed back the deadline for railroad companies to install this life-saving technology. In 2008, lawmakers set a December 31, 2015 deadline for railroad companies to install PTC. However, this deadline was extended to December 31, 2018, due in part to extensive lobbying from the railroad industry. Companies can also apply for a two-year extension to this deadline.

The idea behind PTC is not new. Regulators have pushed for the installation of similar technologies since 1969. NTSB data shows that if automatic braking technologies had been implemented in 1969, it could have prevented railway crashes that led to 298 deaths and 6,763 injuries.

Regan Zambri Long PLLC has extensive experience handling mass transit accident lawsuits. Our attorneys represented victims of the DC Metro incidents in 2015 and 2009. If you have questions about legal options after a train crash, our attorneys are here to help.